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How Emergent Leadership Helps Teams Grow

For the longest time, companies everywhere have worked in hierarchies, with your authority being decided by your position in the organization. Leaders are appointed to teams by management and not chosen by the teams themselves. 

However, this traditional notion of a leader is slowly being replaced by a dynamic interplay of ideas, where everyone’s voice is heard and actively sought after. 

This is the core of emergent leadership. It’s a management style adopted by some of the most successful companies worldwide. It encourages team members to contribute their strengths and ideas based on their expertise and the situation’s needs rather than relying only on predefined authority structures. 

If you’re eager to explore how the emergent leadership model can transform your workplace, then read on.

What Is Emergent Leadership?

Emergent leadership is when someone naturally takes charge in a group without being formally appointed. In an emergent leadership approach, individuals demonstrate leadership qualities and motivate their team members through their actions, skills, and contributions without holding a formal title or position.

Consider this example to understand this work style better.

Say your friends are planning a volunteer project to clean up a local park. While no one is officially appointed as the leader, one person, let’s call her Sarah, naturally starts taking charge. Sarah suggests ideas, mobilizes resources, and motivates others through her enthusiasm. 

Despite lacking a formal title, Sarah’s proactive approach, growth mindset, and effective communication skills make her an emergent leader. Others naturally look to her for guidance, not because she was appointed but because she demonstrated leadership qualities through her actions. 

Similarly, emergent leadership is personified at the workplace by individuals who lead by example, inspire confidence, and contribute meaningfully to the team’s success, regardless of their formal status within the organizational hierarchy.

Why Should Companies Encourage Emergent Leadership?

Emergent leadership can be particularly valuable in dynamic environments where the ability to adapt, collaborate, and lead by example is essential for success. 

It can bring several benefits that contribute to organizational success and make succession planning easier. Here are some of them:

  • Adaptability to change: Emergent leaders often quickly adapt to change and can guide their teams through dynamic situations. Their ability to emerge in response to challenges enables the organization to be more flexible and responsive to changing market conditions
  • Innovation and creativity: Emergent leaders are typically open to new ideas and fresh perspectives. They can thus build a culture of innovation by encouraging team members to share their ideas, contributing to a more creative work environment. Also, by promoting emergent leadership, organizations encourage every employee to think like a leader, which can bring out new and creative ways of solving problems. 
  • Employee engagement: Encouraging and promoting emergent leadership makes employees feel empowered and valued. When individuals are allowed to take on leadership roles based on their skills and expertise, it can lead to increased engagement and job satisfaction
  • Distributed leadership: Emergent leadership promotes the concept of distributed leadership, where leadership responsibilities are distributed across the organization rather than concentrated at the top. This can result in a more collaborative and inclusive workplace
  • Talent development: Companies can identify and nurture talent from within by recognizing and encouraging emergent leaders. This can not only contribute to the professional development of individuals but also create a pipeline for future leadership positions
  • Employee empowerment: Emergent leaders often arise through their ability to inspire and empower the team. So by encouraging this form of leadership, companies can create a culture where employees feel empowered to take initiative and contribute to the organization’s success.
  • Effective problem-solving: Emergent leaders are often skilled problem-solvers. They can address issues on the ground level, and make the organization more adept at solving challenges in real time
  • Better decision-making: With emergent leaders contributing to decision-making processes, companies can benefit from diverse perspectives. This can lead to more well-rounded and informed decisions
  • Enhanced team dynamics: Emergent leaders can foster positive team dynamics by promoting collaboration and building trust. This eventually contributes to a healthy and cohesive work environment

The Key Characteristics of Emergent Leaders

Emergent leaders gain recognition in professional life based on their ability to influence, inspire, and contribute effectively. This earns them the respect and trust of their peers. Here are the emergent leadership traits that set these informal leaders apart in various social and professional settings:

Influence through actions

Emergent leaders influence their colleagues through their actions, expertise, and ability to contribute effectively to the group’s goals. Because of this, others in the group are naturally drawn to trust and follow them.


Emergent leaders often exhibit adaptability and flexibility, responding effectively to changing circumstances. They can quickly go from being part of a team to leading the team. In addition, their ability to navigate challenges and find creative solutions contributes to their emergence as leaders within the group.

Relationship building

Building positive relationships with other group members is a common trait of emergent leaders. They often possess strong interpersonal skills and can connect with their peers, thus building a sense of unity and collaboration.

Communication skills

Effective communication is crucial in an emergent leader. They can articulate ideas clearly, listen actively to others, and also facilitate open and constructive dialogue within the group.

Problem-solving approach

Emergent leaders are often adept at problem-solving and group interactions. Because they can analyze situations, propose solutions, and guide the group through challenges, they gain the trust and respect of their peers.

Proactive attitude

Emergent leaders also take the initiative to contribute to the group’s success. They proactively identify opportunities for improvement and are willing to take on responsibilities without waiting for formal direction or an outlined leadership role.

Recognition by peers

One of the defining features of emergent leaders is that their leaders and peers recognize and accept their emerging leadership. This recognition is often based on observable behaviors and their positive impact on the team.

The Differences between Assigned and Emergent Leadership

Assigned and emergent leadership are two distinct leadership styles that highlight how individuals assume leadership roles within a group or organization. 

Here’s what sets them apart:

Authority and formality

In assigned leadership, higher authorities such as managers, supervisors, or organizational leaders appoint formal leaders to their leadership roles. This form of leadership is often associated with positional power.

On the other hand, an emergent leader is not formally appointed but arises organically within a group based on their perceived abilities, skills, or influence. The group chooses such a leader from within. 

Source of influence

The authority of assigned leaders is derived from their formal position in the organization’s conventional hierarchy. They hold power and control over subordinates based on their job title or role.

An emergent leader gains influence through their peers’ recognition and acceptance of their skills, expertise, or interpersonal abilities. Their leadership arises from the group dynamics and the informal relationships within the team.

Recognition and acceptance

Assigned leaders are recognized and accepted because of their title or position. However, acceptance by the team may vary, and their influence and effectiveness may depend on the assigned leader’s ability to gain the respect and trust of their subordinates.

An emergent leader is chosen by the other group members based on their actions, contributions, and interpersonal skills. Their leadership style also is more likely to be accepted by other team members because it arises naturally from the group dynamics.

Flexibility and adaptability

Assigned leaders may face challenges adapting to changing situations, as their authority is often tied to a specific role or position. They may need to rely on positional power rather than personal influence.

In contrast, emergent leaders are informal leaders who tend to be more flexible in responding to dynamic situations. Their influence is based on the trust and support they have earned from the group, so they can navigate changing circumstances more effectively.

Formal vs. Informal

Assigned leaders operate within the organization’s formal structure and are typically a part of senior leadership. 

Emergent leaders operate in the informal realm of social identity, arising from the social interactions and relationships within the group.

How Can Managers Foster Emergent Leadership in Their Teams?

Promoting emergent leadership is all about building a workplace where everyone collaborates freely and can take the lead when opportunities arise. 

Managers can promote emergent leadership by encouraging team members to take ownership, voice their ideas and opinions, and work collaboratively towards the larger goal. 

Now, imagine a tool that helps you with all of this. That’s where ClickUp steps in as your go-to platform for collaboration. Project Management in ClickUp simplifies tasks and provides a space for everyone to shine. 

Here are a few ways managers can successfully use ClickUp to encourage emergent leadership within their teams: 

Set goals for your team

Clear objectives give teams a sense of purpose by encouraging team members to take ownership of their roles. 

Use ClickUp Goals to empower individuals to make decisions, showcase problem-solving skills, and actively seek growth opportunities. Well-defined objectives and measurable key results allow each team member to plan and execute creatively.

Even better, visually tracking progress in multiple views within ClickUp ensures transparency, and builds a collaborative environment where emergent leaders naturally guide their team members as needed.

ClickUp Goal View
Align team goals, foster collaboration, and ensure progress visibility with ClickUp Goals

Build accountability and ownership

Managers can build a culture of accountability by delegating responsibilities and fostering open communication within the team, encouraging emergent leaders to step forward. 

Empowering team members with ownership of goals and tasks promotes adaptive planning and flexibility, allowing emergent leaders to navigate changing project requirements and set priorities as needed.

With Task Management in ClickUp, tasks have clear owners and deadlines to keep teams accountable. Moreover, owners and teams can track the progress of tasks, set and change priorities, build workflows and automate repetitive tasks, and assign tasks and sub-tasks to different owners. 

Tracking progress is also super easy with ClickUp Dashboards that update in real time. 

ClickUp Dashboard
Plan, organize, and execute projects in ClickUp to achieve shared goals

Encourage clear communication

Effective communication catalyzes emergent leadership by creating a transparent and inclusive environment. When team members can openly express their ideas, concerns, and opinions, it creates opportunities for individuals to showcase leadership qualities.

Break down communication barriers and stimulate collaborative dialogue with ClickUp’s real-time commenting feature. Encourage your team to share thoughts, provide constructive feedback, and ideate collectively. 

Recognizing that things can get lost in comments, ClickUp lets emergent leaders take charge and create instant action items directly within the conversation. In this way, they can transform discussions into actionable steps, resolving or reassigning comments without the hassle of searching. 

ClickUp Comments
Assign an action item directly within a comment, ensuring clarity and accountability via ClickUp

Reward creativity

Creativity fuels emergent leadership by inspiring individuals to think innovatively, take risks, and contribute unique solutions to challenges. Emergent leaders often emerge when organizations encourage individuals to think outside the box and inspire others with their creative approach.

With ClickUp Docs, teams get a user-friendly platform where they can ideate, create, and collaborate with each other.  This kind of collaborative workspace fosters the emergence of leadership from within the team. 

ClickUp Docs 3.0
ClickUp Docs for documenting and sharing important information with the team

Time-saving features such as Focus Mode and templates optimize workflow and help teams work more efficiently. 

ClickUp’s integration capabilities with various tools help emergent leaders leverage their favorite applications easily to achieve goals faster.

Build Emergent Leaders with ClickUp

Modern organizations can build a culture of performance and inclusivity by nurturing emergent leadership. Emergent leaders motivate teams, bring about innovation, and drive a strategic vision, contributing to a positive and high-performance workplace culture.

Leverage a platform like ClickUp to build a culture of ownership, collaboration, and innovation within your team. The platform facilitates transparent communication and unites teams behind shared goals. 

This creates an ideal environment for emergent leadership where every team member’s voice is heard and valued.

Ready to see emergent leaders take your team to new heights? Try ClickUp today 

Common FAQs

1. What is emergent leadership, and why is it important in 2024?

Emergent leadership refers to the organic rise of individuals as leaders within a group, driven by their influence and abilities rather than a formal designation. In 2024, it is crucial due to the dynamic nature of contemporary workplaces, where adaptability, collaboration, and innovation are crucial for business success.

2. How can managers encourage emergent leadership in their own leaders and team?

Managers can foster emergent leadership by promoting a culture of open communication, recognizing and rewarding initiative, providing opportunities for skill development, and encouraging collaboration among team members.

3. Can technology tools like ClickUp help in fostering emergent leadership in a team?

Yes, tools like ClickUp can facilitate emergent leadership by providing platforms for seamless communication, collaboration, and project management, empowering team members to take initiative, contribute ideas, and showcase their leadership potential.

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