In my previous blog post, I discussed the most dominant organizational structure of our time: Vertical Leadership. This structure, I argued, has served its function well: It gets things done.
But today, many in the business world are moving away from this model of leadership in favor of a new way of organizing: Horizontal Leadership. The old hierarchical structures are giving way to communities, relationships, webs, tribes, and ecosystems.
A helpful way to think about this style of leadership is to think of it like a cellular structure with each component being equally valued and essential to the life of the organism.
- It’s culturally and community-based.
- It can foster collaboration and consensus.
- It destratifies structure, titles and roles.
- It’s interconnected, like a cellular structure.
- When a leader is removed, the structure can potentially more easily adapt.
In my opinion, this leadership structure more closely resembles what Jesus envisions in His Kingdom. Jesus does not abolish leaders, but redefines them as servants. He does not abolish structure, but flattens it. He doesn’t get rid of personality, but encourages its communal unveiling and expression. He doesn’t get rid of everyone’s turf as much as say, “Wait, I’m giving you all the turf. Why do you want just this piece?”
Horizontal Leadership gets us closer to the ideals of equality, unity and relational vibrancy.
But, will things still get done? Who will lead?
This seems to be the primary challenge to this organizational leadership model. Note the soil out of which this challenge grows: Getting Things Done. Could there be a more accurate mantra describing current culture?
Get things done…in spite of how long it takes.
Get things done…in spite of who has to do it.
Get things done…in spite of the havoc we cause to our families.
Get things done…in spite of the relationships that suffer.
What if the source of all this drivenness is not as much a desire to serve or better the world as much as it is a desire to fill the emptiness in the leaders’ (and even followers’ lives) with accomplishments that fill us with a sense of power.
After all, the core question of any leadership system is how power is concentrated and diffused.
A few words about power then are appropriate. Power is seductive and I believe is the primary reason Vertical Leadership systems exist and perpetuate. Much has been written about the decisive corrupting nature of power by those more articulate than me; however, comparatively little has been written about power’s very strength and energy coming forth from the vacuum created by the emptiness in our lives as leaders. This empty vacuum sucks us into its vortex where false power gains momentum and spits us out on the other side driving us toward significance and accomplishment.
Horizontal Leadership systems attempt to counter-balance this individual drive for power and accomplishment (and the requisite ethical failures that follow) by harnessing power collectively and diffusing it toward a common goal. Vertical Leaderships systems, on the other hand, are an attempt to concentrate power in a few and focus it to specific problems to be solved or goals to be met.
Each system, in my opinion, speaks to some built-in desires in all of us. We want to be personally significant (Vertical Leadership) and we want to be part of something bigger than ourselves (Horizontal Leadership).
You’ll note both systems have their source of power within and I think this will prove to be key as we continue our discussion in the final blog post where I’m excited to talk about Overflow Leadership, a style of leading I believe Jesus modeled for us.