The distinction between assigned leadership and emergent leadership is simple. Assigned leaders are appointed to a formal management or supervisor position. Emergent leaders take on informal leadership roles based on the perception that work team or group members have toward them. For a small-business operator, recognizing emergent leaders and assigning them to formal openings is ideal.


An assigned leader is a formal leadership designation in an organization. Shift manager, assistant manager, general manager, district manager, regional manager, vice president, president and chief executive officer are all examples of formally assigned leadership roles. Emergent leaders sometimes have a designated leadership position. This term is often applied to someone in a front line work group whom the other team members look to for inspiration or direction. An emergent leader may also have a front line management role but show similar emergent leader capabilities within the front line manager ranks.


Someone assigned a leadership role without strong abilities to motivate followers typically enjoys less respect than someone without a formal position who motivates people in a certain direction. In this way, an assigned leader is described as a position-based leader. Without genuine respect from employees, he must rely on his title and often fear or intimidation to direct people. An emergent leader has the respect of his colleagues or group members. If he advocates a certain position or encourages employees to take certain actions, their respect for him and his leadership usually causes them to follow.


Communication often distinguishes formal or assigned leaders from informal, emergent leaders. Effective leaders communicate well one on one by listening to employees and being approachable. They also articulate interest in the employee as a person and provide task direction. In small groups, an emergent leader normally gains her status by being a vocal, engaging communicator. The assigned leader must work to develop group rapport, but she has the advantage of her formal role in the group, which she uses to motivate and direct workers.


The major challenge for an assigned leader is to develop a level of respect akin to that of an emergent leader. This often requires taking the time to build bonds with employees and earning their respect with hard work and commitment. The assigned leader may also struggle in conflict with an emergent leader in his employee ranks. Ideally, he can get this vocal leader on his side. The emergent leader's primary challenge is lack of authority. While he has the influence to motivate people, he doesn't necessarily have the authority to make high-level decisions or to understand strategic motives of the business or his department.