The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Formal and Informal Leadership

Harry Sheehy, Dartmouth College's Head of Athletics, talks with Rockefeller Leadership Fellows about formal and informal leadership. (Photo by May Nguyen)

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Rockefeller Leadership Fellows met with Dartmouth College's Head of Athletics, Harry Sheehy. Sheehy has had an incredible career in athletics and has brought mission driven innovation to Dartmouth College's athletic program. Sheehy played varsity basketball at Williams college and was a two-time All American, as well as captain his senior year. Later, Sheehy became coach of Williams’ Basketball team and ultimately became the Director of Athletics there. Under his leadership as Director, Williams won 17 Division III national team championships.

During this session, Sheehy compared and contrasted formal leadership with informal leadership. Formal leadership refers to the clear, delineated hierarchy of job positions within an organization. It can be very efficient because everyone has their specific responsibilities to complete, and action is all legitimized. However, it can sometimes be too rigid and inhibit creativity. Formal leadership structure may discourage lower level workers of thinking out of the box and expanding out of their official role. Informal leadership refers to people who are the true motivators and influential individuals of the organization. Informal leadership allows for different people to step up as leaders at different times.

Aware that the Fellows would be entering the job market next year, Sheehy also focused on the importance of “managing up.” Managing up is how entry-level workers can help their boss and organization succeed by doing their job well. Sheehy was very motivational and positive about the millennial generation entering the workforce. He emphasized the importance of hard work, creativity, and passion in the millennial generation. Sheehy believes that entry-level workers are critical for an organization’s success because they bring new ideas and a fresh perspective. They present an opportunity to reevaluate old practices and bring new energy to the organization.

-Written by Annie Smith '16, Rockefeller Leadership Fellow


The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences