✏ The Myth of Vertical Leadership

Does advancement always mean moving up?

The infamous hierarchal chart, first called the “matrix” was a product of distinguishing the rank in nobility. Its purpose was simply to establish the path to the throne. It was then adopted by the military to determine rank and advancement. It was adopted by politics to diagram leadership from the local, state and national levels.

Along the way, this hierarchy (flat, horizontal, chain of command) became a common tool for large companies to display the gaps between titles and the path to the top. No longer would we depend upon a simple introduction or business card — now we needed a published glossy document to identify senior leadership and all of those below them with perfect head shots and titles only an ad agency could come up with.

While necessary, does it establish a realistic and fair representation of how leadership should work? 

I call this vertical leadership because as the saying goes, “one must climb the ladder to the success.” But is that really necessary?

Is success only achieved vertically?

Why does one have to correlate the process of moving up the chain of command with being an effective and successful leader? I know many people without a title who are extremely successful.

Why is leadership associated with a title?

For example, does the manager, and the manager only, deserve all the credit for the successful, efficient and productive team? Of course not. The results of the team were a result of their hard work and perseverance, as well as the respective managers ability to empower, lead and inspire. With that comes shared credit for the achievements.

What’s my point?

Why does society pressure those who are extremely successful in a role to move up the proverbial ladder to success? Why do we invest in performance consultants that stress the importance of the pathway for advancement?

Why do we push employees to participate in job rotations where WE think they would be successful, without really having an honest dialogue?

For example, some will tell you that a successful sales person will lose their passion and the challenge of sales if left in the same role too long. When you find one that has been on top for many years, look to promote them or possibly risk losing them to the competition for lack of advancement.

Although I agree to an extent with the logic, I do so with one caveat … are they being promoted on their own free will, or as a result of the pressures of management and job security? In other words, are we really listening to them, both verbally and non-verbally, or are we making assumptions?

Each year during reviews at most companies, we ask our employees:

“Where do you see yourself a year from now?”
“What are your goals?”
“What career path do you see yourself on?” 

Why do these questions have to be so persuasive in their delivery? Those being reviewed have no other option, without putting themselves in a vulnerable position, than to not be completely truthful.

Would it be too far-fetched to believe that there are some people who actually find their current role to be amazing, challenging, rewarding and something that they may want to continue to pursue for years to come? Would that be the wrong answer to their superior if they were asked if they wanted to advance?

Would that leader walk away from that discussion, and come to the conclusion that the employee lacks the passion for advancement or take on new challenges? In other words, are they stagnant and in a comfort zone?

I have personally seen companies put some of the best sales people into management positions based on their record of achievements — only to watch them crash and burn. The assumption is that because they were successful, they must have the ability to teach others their skills, and empower the team under their leadership to be just like them. But the truth of the matter is this:

Not everybody has the skill, nor desire to lead a team. I’m not being disrespectful; it’s just an honest statement. The success of those individuals comes from their ability to lead themselves. 

They have a gift, and they challenge themselves to grow in their existing role every day. If you really know the people you lead, you should know this, because of the relationship you already have with your key staff. It should not come as a surprise, nor should you have to justify it to upper management. If you don’t know the goals and desires of your staff, you need to be having more conversations with them.

Remember this: success doesn’t come from “upward” steps, it comes from small steps forward. Each of those small steps forward will result in amazing things. In other words . . .

You don’t have to aim for the clouds
if you want to be a successful leader;
just keeping moving forward.

Venture + Lead + Prosper

Go do great things today and make a difference.

Privileged to lead,

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Victor Pisano✏ The Myth of Vertical Leadership

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