Studies in Leadership: Leadership and Democratic Action

By Alvin W. Gouldner | Go to book overview

Contexts: Informal Leaders

DURING the past two decades social scientists have begun to emphasize the role of the "informal group" and "informal leader." Studies of the community and of industry have, in particular, pointed up the utility of these concepts. Broadly, what is referred to as an "informal group" consists of a number of individuals who spontaneously come together, under certain circumstances, for the pursuit of multiple ends, most of which are vaguely defined. (Put in this way, the similarity between the concepts of "informal group" and Ferdinand Tönnies' "gemeinschaft" is evident.)

Informal groups may be found within different social settings. They may exist either within the confines of a formal organization, such as a bureaucracy, or apart from it, in the manner of the street corner gang. The bases on which informal groups may be established are many: people who live or work near each other, people who are in the same ethnic, age, sex or occupational group may, without plan or intention, come together and establish informal groups. The existence of these groups may be observed in several ways. Among these are: noting which people--perhaps in an office or factory--eat lunch together with a fair degree of regularity, which people tend to go bowling together, to the movies or, perhaps, those who exchange turns at "baby-sitting" for each other. Similarly, their presence may be detected by observing those individuals who use the same technical jargon or vernacular. While far from infallible, attention to such mundane behavior will often reveal the extent, character, and number of informal groups with a surprising degree of accuracy.

Like the formally organized group, the informal group has a structure. The behavior of its members is not random but is instead patterned by normative elements and by its leadership. William Foote Whyte's "Informal Leadership and Group Structure" is a close-up

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