How do companies move past command and control, to cooperation (and shared governance)? Can managers who tightfistedly grasp the reigns be convinced to lead with, and not at, their employees? The mindset of “I don’t work for you and you don’t work for me,” but together, we create customer product occurs when fellow workers are treated as equals – and when “bosses” cease needing hierarchical distinctions to enhance a teetering sense of esteem; when they realize employees are not props in their self-created dramas.
Workers in a delayered company desire latitude (and not servitude). In 1981, Manz and Sims coined the term “unleader” to describe team organization in which “leaders” play the role of coach, cheerleader, expediter, and facilitator. In an imploded hierarchy (or a profession where employees operate independently (e.g., forest ranger, insurance agent, real estate broker, or repair person)) the atmosphere is one in which greater freedom is (or should be) the norm. A leader’s job then is to keep the lines of communication open; to engage in management by wandering around, in a culture where annual performance appraisal is replaced with monthly conversations (that go both ways (McCord, 2017)) – creating a “team of all equals” rather than a hornet’s nest comprised of rival workers.
Employee-centric guidelines (combined with exemplary top-level leadership), is the winning ticket within lateral firms: the referent power and relational capital that Herb Kelleher plied to achieve extraordinary financial returns. Leading in a delayered environment is then a pull strategy – the greater the emotional currency that supervisors have massed, the stronger will be their personal magnetism.
Workers will move mountains for those by whom they measure their personal yardstick. More than a compulsory check-in with those whom bosses “manage” is therefore necessary to establish a culture of compassionate and deliberate kindness, along with an egalitarian “team of all leaders.” The extent to which employees admire their supervisor is the degree to which those individuals’ “management” becomes effortless.