Are You Leading Based On Hierarchy?

posted by Darren Mitchell June 2, 2015 0 comments

Hierarchical Leadership

After being an exceptional performer as an individual contributor and recognised as a ‘high potential’ future leader, Janet was recently promoted to a People Leadership role – a role she had been working towards for over 18 months. She was very excited by the opportunity in front of her and was very keen to make her mark and have an immediate impact. She had worked diligently over the preceding 18 months to develop and form her own leadership philosophy and approach, and had aligned herself with what she considered to be strong and effective leaders, leveraging off their experience and guidance. So when the opportunity presented itself, she was ready.

The first 60 days for Janet has been very challenging, and whilst she has not lost her excitement around the new leadership role, she is beginning to feel a level of frustration that she had not been expecting. Her main challenge has been with her 1 up and 2 up Leaders, both of whom are leading their teams according to hierarchy and utilising their positional power to force their team to take action. This has been a real eye opener for Janet, especially considering the leaders she had aligned herself with possess and demonstrate a completely different philosophy and approach. She was experiencing a dimension of leadership where the approach seemed to be ‘do as I say because I am the boss’. In listening to Janet’s experience, I shared with her that her 1 up and 2 up leaders appeared to be operating from Level 1 of the 5 Levels of Leadership (based on John Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership) – Position. The unfortunate thing was that Janet and a couple of other new leaders were being taught that this was the way to manage & lead, and therefore were being set a poor leadership example. At this level of leadership, people are following the leader because they have to, whereas the real trick is to lead the team so that the people are encouraged to follow because they want to.

At this point I asked Janet the question “Are you leading your team based on hierarchy?”, and despite her best intentions and focus coming into the role, she felt as if she was beginning to follow her leaders. The good news though was that she had recognised that and was searching for some assistance on how to build a strong following within her team and earn the right to lead them, rather than lead them based on hierarchy. Over the next hour we delved deep into the following points, which I trust will be of benefit to you, especially if you find yourself in a similar situation to Janet :

  • Having a Leadership title does not guarantee that you are a leader. Being promoted into a leadership position is a great privilege, and with that privilege comes great responsibility. Just because you have been promoted into a leadership position, it does not remove the critical responsibility of you developing and building rapport and connections with your people, of earning their respect and trust, and through this process, earning the right to lead them. If you are unable to do this, you will default to being a level 1 leader, leading your team based on hierarchy (or position). What you will then notice is that your team will action things because they have to, not because they want to – and the end result? The outcomes will probably be no where near as high a standard as they could be.
  • Leaders who lead based on Hierarchy often focus in on politics. Instead of prioritising their focus on building and earning the trust and respect of their people, leaders who lead based on hierarchy can become distracted by the politics within the organisation, because they focus the majority of their attention on their position and the control that they believe that position provides them. They focus on building their empire, and often get caught up in gamesmanship and posturing, and through the process, build a silo which can be incongruent with the mission and direction of the business. As we have discussed in previous articles, leadership is all about influence, however a leader who focuses more on their position than their team, loses their ability to influence their team, because they are not making a contribution to their team – they are making it all about themselves. Rather than focus your attention on your position & the perceived power you think it holds, focus your attention on your people, and identify how you can make a contribution to them – do this well, and your people will give you the power to lead them.
  • You must value your people. As mentioned earlier, leading a team is a huge responsibility and should be seen as a privilege. When you lead based on hierarchy, it can be rather easy to devalue people and to see them purely as a number or a ‘cog in your leadership wheel’. Rather than referring to them as ‘people’, you may start to refer to them as ‘resources’, which almost ‘dehumanises’ the team, and will be guaranteed to reduce engagement and any respect and trust you have developed. Instead, focus on the value in your people, see the good in them, identify & notice the potential that each of them possesses, and then seek to help them unleash that potential – do this, and you will go along way to earning the right to lead them.
  • Leaders who lead based on Hierarchy often focus on power & their rights. Similar to the point above in relation to politics, leaders who lead based on Hierarchy often make themselves the priority and focus their attention on themselves and the power that their position can provide them. They seek opportunities to position themselves in the best possible light, identify ways to make themselves look good in front of others, and do this often at the expense of their people. These leaders are the type who when things go really well, will be out the front seeking all the accolades and limelight, but when things go poorly, they are nowhere to be seen – they will often let their team ‘take the hit’! Unfortunately these type of leaders make it all about themselves, and do not understand that leadership is actually not about them at all – it is all about their people. So focus your attention on your people, and how you can serve them, and lift them up to a higher level of excellence and performance. Do this, and guess what? They will elevate you and hand you the power to lead them, and it won’t be based on hierarchy.
  • Leaders who lead based on Hierarchy can become lonely. With their focus on leadership power and position, and seeking opportunities to elevate themselves above others, these leaders can become very lonely, or experience relationships which are very shallow and inauthentic. They can often de-position and de-edify their people through their actions and focus on being ‘in charge’, and wonder why when they reach the pinnacle (if they ever do!), there is no one around to share the success with. Instead, stand beside your people, stand behind them, empower them to push forward, help them take one step after another, and encourage them to follow you – great leaders understand that sustained success cannot be achieved alone, it does require a strong team all moving in the same direction. Set a great example and your people will follow you – and it won’t be a lonely walk!
  • Leaders who lead based on Hierarchy often do not receive 100% effort from their people. Often the leader who leads based on hierarchy has not created an environment which encourages their people to challenge themselves and push the limits of their comfort zone, and therefore they often receive only token effort from their people. These leaders do not set and uphold high standards of excellence, nor do they set strong examples of performance – they focus more on ‘telling’ than showing or encouraging. As a result, even if their people are ambitious and start out to do great work and make a contribution, over time, their efforts can reduce to token efforts or just enough to get by, and the leader is unable to unleash the full capability of their team. Instead of focussing on hierarchy, focus on creating an environment that encourages your people to give their best effort, and reward them for it, even if they make mistakes. Doing this repeatedly will result in 100% effort from your people consistently, and the results will be remarkable.

Are you currently leading your team based on hierarchy? If so, I trust that the above points have encouraged you to take a different approach, and in doing so, set you on a path to significantly improve your leadership. Understand that being awarded a position of Leadership is a great privilege – it is an indication & recognition of your potential. Your challenge is to unleash that potential and utilise the leadership position as a platform to build an engaged, inspired and vibrant movement, capable of achieving great things, not only in the short term, but consistently into the future.

Here is to you unleashing your leadership potential!


Are you seeking to increase your influence? Click this link to download a FREE copy of my eBook “Lead With Influence – The 7 Strategic Keys to Unleash Your Sales Leadership Potential”.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post – I greatly appreciate it, and welcome comments and feedback. Please feel free to comment below, to follow me on LinkedIn, or to connect via Twitter or Facebook.

About : Darren is an Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant, Trainer, Facilitator, Speaker. A  passionate and driven individual specialising in personal development, strategic planning, coaching for advocacy & enhanced performance, situational and servant based leadership, executive coaching of people leaders, emerging leaders and ‘high potential’ individual contributors within the Enterprise & Government market, personal change management, and strategic workshop facilitation & training.

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