Horizontal Leadership

The Internet has disrupted our lives in many ways, some positive, some negative. Today, we get as much of our news from Twitter or Facebook than from traditional outlets like newspapers, radio, or television. This shift has replaced the vertical relationship we had with the media, where they broadcast and we read, listen or watch, with a horizontal flow of information where everybody listens to everyone else. Of course, there are negative aspects of this, there is no denying the new reality. The usual gatekeepers who told us what to know and who to listen to are all but gone in this new horizontal communication world.

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Influencing Leadership

This radical shift from vertical and mediated influence to a horizontal and free-flowing flow of information is causing a similar shift in leadership. Old hierarchical “command and control” leadership models are being replaced by horizontal, peer-to-peer leadership models in organizations of all kinds. Even large companies have embraced the model and adopt a flat, horizontal management and leadership model.

Undeniable Reality

Horizontal leadership is here to stay, and perhaps it is a good thing. Consider the following aspects that can be observed when we influence people horizontally instead of through a hierarchical relationship.

  1. Communication is the Main Leadership Tool. It is all about the free flow of information from person to person and from team to team.

  2. Trust is Foundational. In hierarchical models of leadership influence is often exercised through position. In horizontal models, influence is based on trust.

  3. Relationships are Essential. Trust is built through personal relationships. Personal relationships function like a web, in which influence flows in every direction.

  4. There are No Followers. In a vertical scheme, there are leaders and followers. In this new model, leadership is truly influence, so instead of followers, we have “influenced peers.”

  5. Influence is Reciprocal. In healthy relationships, communication and influence need to flow both ways. There are no real followers in horizontal leadership models. Every individual in the web influences others and is influenced by them.

  6. The Organization Becomes Agile. Because decision is less dependent on “gatekeepers, it is made and implemented more quickly than in vertical organizations.

  7. It is Dependent on Teams. Accomplishing the vision is about joining in teams in the pursuit of shared goals.

This model doesn’t imply that vertical, or hierarchical leadership is extinct. In fact, as it often happens, the best model may end up being a hybrid one, where some aspects of hierarchy and authority remain, while individual and teams are empowered to network independently and lead horizontally.

What does this mean for you and I? Perhaps you don’t have an organization, or even a department under your leadership. That doesn’t mean you are not a leader, an influencer, who can help the organization you are part of – church, business, non-profit, etc., embrace a more horizontal leadership model that will empower more people and accomplish your God’ given mission.