What is Lateral Leadership?

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In classical organizational structure, the task of leadership is clearly linked to positions and distributed from top to bottom. CxOs, Heads, Managers, etc. are the managers who are responsible for guiding and assessing their employees. In addition to professional management and authority, they also have disciplinary responsibility and thus also decide on leave applications, further training and promotions.

But what happens if there is no artificial hierarchy in the company or project to which the leadership responsibility is oriented and can be read?

Hierarchy and Shadow Networks

There is always a natural hierarchy in our social systems, which develops on the basis of various factors. Thus, when we talk about flat or no hierarchy at all, this can only refer to the artificially defined hierarchy, such as an organization chart.

In companies, in addition to the official hierarchy as a pyramid, there is almost always a shadow network with the relationships of employees with each other, which override defined team and departmental boundaries and hierarchy levels. Where structures, processes and rules hinder people’s work, workarounds are created. On the one hand, this is good for the system to remain operational at all, but can lead to undesirable side-effects if it also promotes hidden agendas, which are not necessarily in the interests of the entire company.

Lateral Leadership in Agile Organizations

Modern network organisations, agile organisational structures and processes are more likely to rely on self-organization and distributed management tasks and/or processes. Leadership roles. In an agile context, explicit managerial employee relationships are broken up and management responsibilities are divided between cross-funtional teams. Titles and hierarchies have undesirable effects on team collaboration and dynamism. So there is no longer only “the” one manager or “the” manager. Leadership is no longer a given force. So there are fewer or no leaders, but leadership roles. And according to the expertise and context, many of them may even be.

Definition Lateral Leadership

Lateral leadership means leadership without disciplinary leadership, without authority. The guide direction is not limited from top to bottom. Lateral or peer leadership has an explicit effect on the horizontal level. Everyone has leadership responsibilities towards their colleagues. It does not matter where they are located in the artificial hierarchy. This explicitly includes the direction of employee to boss.

The great challenge for employees is to recognize the importance of their own leadership and to take responsibility for it and to find ways and ways to do it.

Lateral leadership

A classical manager often also has the power or Power to make and push through decisions alone, give instructions and control and sanction results in case of doubt. Employees with a lateral leadership role do not have any of these “aids” to get people to do certain actions. Especially in the context of knowledge and creative work, the positive and sustainable effect of a leadership style based on power, pressure and fear can be called into question.

Leading does not mean building pressure, but creating a suction.

Götz W. Werner

If I want to lead laterally, this means first and foremost that I have to find a leadership style that needs to be very specific to the needs of the people involved. Since there is no compulsion, this is the only way to achieve voluntary consequences. The purpose of the desired goal must be recognizable, that communication must take place on an equal footing and that a way of cooperation must be found according to individual values and motivations. A common basis of trust and the necessary freedom are the basis for functioning self-organization and the distribution and perception of leadership responsibility.

Learn lateral leadership

To create this framework, there are a number of methods and tools (including management 3.0 practices) that can assist with lateral leadership. It is important that lateral guidance can and must also be learned. Whether it is a leadership role or a leadership position, employees must be supported in the development of their management work, as this does not even happen on the side and certainly not on their own.

Interestingly, the same approaches and the leadership style required for lateral leadership can also help in a classical hierarchy, since the leadership style is not necessarily bound to the structures here.

In-house Lateral Leadership Training

Would you like to book an in-house Lateral Leadership Seminar for your company? Then contact us and we will conduct the Lateral Leadership Training in your city.

We also offer our Lateral Leadership Seminar in German.

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