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Developing Non-Hierarchical Leadership: From Command to Collaborate

Published by MBA Skool Team in Human Resources Articles category Last Updated: July 07, 2013Read time:

A majority of the companies have an intensely rigid hierarchy of leadership into their system. This ushers managers the room to sustain and companies to leverage their strengths. Nevertheless for companies that aim to embark on new strategies, they need sustainable and competent leadership. This is possible only in highly dynamic environment, where hierarchical leadership structures are surpassed by innovation. Such an environment provides opportunities to employees regardless of their rank and helps propel the company into a commanding position through collaborative and participatory leadership.


In the recent times there is an evident shift in many businesses and not-for-profit organizations—transition from the more traditional and hierarchical model of leadership towards collaborative leadership for ameliorating relationships with others. This type of leadership seeks to involve others in decision making, is strongly ethical, and assures the career growth of employees along with better quality of work-life.

The business leadership has now been dominated by managers who ruled their enterprises from the top down. In earlier times, influence of two World Wars was very evident, as the organizational hierarchies were designed similar to that in military, with an extensive hierarchy to establish control through rules and processes. The desire of power, status and money, is very well brought out in 1956’s classic- ‘The Organization Man’ of William H. Whyte and in 1955, ‘The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit’ by Sloan Wilson.

In the late twentieth century the short term nature of stock market, caused business leaders to focus on myopic gains which side-lined the long-term growth. This not only manifested itself in jitters like the ethical debacles exposed by Enron and WorldCom but also showed up in the Wall Street meltdown. Due to this, people started doubting the calibre of corporate leaders in structuring a sustainable institution since they were self-centric and myopic in intent.

Ever wondered what could have probably gone wrong in whatever transpired? Traditional hierarchical system’s failure could have been an answer in the right direction. Today most of the work force simply won’t respond to the command type of leadership. The new generation work force is not willing to wait in queue for getting promoted and seek more and more opportunities. They are focussed more on job satisfaction apart from the monetary benefits that they are entitled to. In many companies employees are motivated by the mission and values of the organization. Dynamic leaders are more focused on customers. Hierarchical leaders aimed only nearby goals and are oblivious of the larger picture. One leader who walked the talk is Mr Paul Polman, CEO- Unilever. He expressed his views as- "I don't work for any shareholder. I only work for my customers."

Off late, the leaders are more focussed on the alignment between employees and the organization mission, vision and values. This helps empower the leaders and makes them perform through collaboration within the organization.

The following characteristics of these collaborative leaders contribute to their meaningful practice of non-hierarchical leadership:

Listening: They need to possess a strong commitment to listening others intently. They need to listen receptively to what is being explicit and implicit. Listening to one’s own inner voice is equally important. Reflection in the interim is conducive for the growth and advancement.

Aligning: Proper alignment of employees along company's mission is of utmost importance. Multi-national organizations where employees are more attached to local cultures instead of the company’s work culture, alignment becomes even more complex.

Listening: Johnson & Johnson is a stunning example where organization has aligned their employees perfectly and thereby directed them for performing in alignment with goals of the company. Traditional hierarchical leadership has been proved to be out of place and it has never been able to tackle the work place deviance. Diligent alignment of employees makes them responsible for the larger good of the organization which is something greater than their individual gains.

Empowering: The manner in which hierarchical leadership exercises its power is through command and taking total control of their subordinates. On the contrary, the non-hierarchical leadership traits enable the leaders to take control of the position by empowering the various leaders at different designations. The leaders at every level thus set excellent work standards for others to emulate in a conducive and collaborative atmosphere. The satisfaction out of this kind of quality work surpasses the feelings of individualistic and myopic gains.

Serving: New generation leadership believe that employees possess an intrinsic value apart from their tangible work performance. So, they are religiously committed for the growth of every single employee within the company. The leader should sense the innate responsibility of nurturing the professional and personal growth of the employees, off course within their gamut of power. Customer satisfaction and purposeful employees becomes the key for sustainable competitive advantage.

Collaborative: The leaders need to be persuasive and convincing others for taking a course of action, rather than using their positional authority for coercion. This aspect offers a very lucid distinction between the traditional authoritarian leadership model and the collaborative leadership model. The importance of persuasion instead of coercion has been corroborated by the Religious Society of Friends, Quakers, Britain (UK). Collaboration within the organization, with the customers and consumers and with the suppliers is a prerequisite for sustained solutions and services.

Generational Intelligence: The caliber to reflect and act, with an understanding of one’s own and other’s life-course, family and social history, placed within its social and cultural context. It needs the leader to place himself in the position of a person of a different age or generation while working towards sustainable solutions.

Summarizing the process - From Command to Collaborate:

The changing nature of the complexity of the business problems have brought out the inability of the organizations and individuals in solving it for lasting results. This has led to the need for a more collaborative and coherent yet diverse and innovative leadership within the organization.

The following initiatives will help the transition:

1.    Team Work & Team building

2.    Strong Reverse feedback mechanism

3.    Strong Legal Compliance & Grievance handling mechanism

4.    Strong basis for Performance Management

5.    Rewards & Recognition (Given to the performing associates from time to time)

6.    Brain Storming sessions with the team for decisions to be taken

7.    Strong upward & downward communication (Transparent processes)

8.    Developing a positive & employee friendly work culture

9.    Flexibility in work timings & work operations

10.  Social networking & socializing opportunities to be given to the employees.

The article has been authored by Rajesh Prasad, TAPMI, Manipal

Views expressed in the article are personal. The articles are for educational & academic purpose only, and have been uploaded by the MBA Skool Team.

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