Hierarchy has made a lot more sense down the years than it does now. Back when roles were very clearly defined and expectations about the output from each of those roles was more or less understood. Back then, rigid hierarchy was a great organisational system.
But that is no longer the case. Organisations are focusing more on diversity and inclusion. Problem-solving is coming from cross-functional squads. Creativity is being democratised (as a matter of necessity)
In this landscape, traditional pyramid structures are starting to look old hat. Nowadays we want to squeeze out all the potential locked into the myriad differences a company has in its ranks. To tie influence to position is to tie your company’s hands.
In practice, what we’re seeing more and more of nowadays are circular models of collaboration and shared responsibility. Groups, rather than individuals, are tasked with achieving certain goals or solving certain problems.
In order for such groups to be successful, diversity of thought is absolutely paramount. That means pulling in members of different departments for their differently shaped brains. Seniority goes out the window when you’re contributing to a squad whose goal has only partial relevance to your area of expertise. In such squads, your very lack of expertise in certain areas is why you can offer something different.
Now I am not suggesting we should do away with managers, as Google attempted in 2002. Nor get rid of CEOs, as Swedish software consultancy Crisp has done.
But whereas leadership in the past was intrinsically tied to and invested in structure, a leader must now help dissolve the creative constraints that structure can bring about. Assuming everyone in a cross-functional squad is more or less similarly qualified for the squad’s objective, seniority doesn’t come into it. In this context, leaders must help erode hierarchical behaviour (whether deferential or rank-pulling). We don’t have time for it, nor psychological space.
What else should leaders in this meritocratic environment seek to do? They must champion creativity and celebrate those who facilitate it. They should demonstrate more diplomacy, vision, flexibility, humbleness and can-do attitude than ever before. They must earn the right to lead every day, without ever expecting to be treated with deference.