Leading with Influence in Flattened Management Hierarchies

Developing Leaders Across Your Organization

Today’s flattened hierarchical structures that are preferred by many organizations provide many benefits. It should improve communication and collaboration, encourage autonomy and accountability, reduce costs, and improve innovation.

However, flattened management structures also ask questions of organizational leadership. With blurred job descriptions, this type of organization tends to produce fewer specialists. It is more difficult to maintain flat structures in large organizations, and this can contribute to inhibited growth. And when employees are unsure of who to report to, confusion may reign.

One thing is clear. If your organization wants to grow within its flat hierarchical structure, you must maximize the benefits and minimize the risks – and this takes leadership.

Lead by transformation, not by transaction

In traditional pyramidal hierarchies, leaders are given the authority to lead. Those at the top make the key decisions, and these are filtered down the line. Managers are in control of their teams. Often, they exert this control by engaging transactional leadership techniques – the carrot and stick, if you will. This can cause stress in teams, and leaders may find it difficult to influence and change behaviors over time.

In flatter hierarchies, leadership is characterized by encouragement, empathy, and influence. Information is shared, teams are involved in problem solving, and deeper working relationships are built. People across teams and the organization trust each other – and it is this trust that allows people to lead and influence flattened teams.

Cultural prerequisites for strong leadership in flat hierarchies

For influential leadership to be allowed to thrive within a flattened organizational structure, your culture must deliver these three non-negotiable elements:

  1. Transparency and knowledge sharing

Decision making must be transparent, enabling all to understand the reasons for doing things and how they are done. It is essential to empower your people to become involved, share their ideas and views, and embrace open discussion and debate.

  1. Coaching

There also needs to be a cultural shift from instruction to coaching. People should be encouraged to find ways to attain their own potential, with managers encouraging them to take a more holistic view. Business strategy should be shared to help people make their own decisions and align their contribution with the team effort and overall business goals.

In essence, your employees should be encouraged to develop their own leaderships skills, confidence, and entrepreneurial spirit.

  1. Resource enabling

To share knowledge, encourage people to be self-developers, and discover your future leaders, it is essential that you provide the resources to make all this happen. 

You must deliver connectivity that allows collaboration to develop, ideas to be explored, and consensus decisions to be made. This includes connectivity that is enabled by technology and that which is enabled by designing worklife to encourage meetings between people that would be disconnected in a traditional pyramidal organization.

Mastering leadership in flat organizations

Here are four tactics to use every day that will help you develop the influence you have on your team.

  1. Build rapport

Get to know your people. Learn what they want from their careers, what they do outside of work, and connect with empathy.

Be open-minded and accepting of people’s perceived strengths and weaknesses. Appreciate people for who they are, what they offer, and the results they deliver. If mistakes are made, coach people to learn from them and improve performance. 

How you build personal relationships will encourage others to follow suit – and that’s great news for team building.

  1. Listen actively

To build empathy with your people, you must listen actively. People will have fears and concerns, and it is your job to listen to these, discuss them, and help people to understand the big picture. Be prepared to direct people to the resources they need to make better-informed decisions.

To listen actively, it is essential that you develop higher emotional intelligence. This will help you to understand and control your own reactions, control your unconscious biases, and improve how you communicate.

  1. Motivate your team by trusting them

Why should people be engaged in the work they do and follow you if you don’t trust them? You can do this by sharing vision and strategy, talking about how each individual and the team contributes to goals, and developing opportunities for people to be responsible and innovative. Communicate openly and reward performance.

You can read more about the link between engagement and motivation in our article, ‘7 Ways to Motivate Your Team’.

  1. Be the example you want people to follow

Influential leaders lead by example. They are positive about the work they do, the organization they work for, and the goals they are working toward. Flat hierarchies work in a collaborative culture – how you lead your team is critical.

Develop leadership, not superiors

In a flattened organization, there are no superiors. People are given autonomy, participate on decision making, understand organizational purpose, values, and mission, and collaborate effectively. This does not mean that your organization can survive without leadership. 

Indeed, in a flat hierarchy, all can become leaders, influencing all those around them and making better task and business decisions. Our Scaling Talent Programs are designed to help you develop leaders across your organization. Click here to learn more.


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