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The keys to lateral leadership

The keys to lateral leadership

Today, hierarchical authority is becoming less effective in obtaining the adhesion of partners and employees. Managers must thus develop their lateral leadership skills.

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Much managerial thinking focuses on ways to help managers work more effectively with their subordinates. However, both senior executives and middle managers must regularly obtain support from individuals over whom they have no formal authority. Indeed, a study by Henry Mintzberg shows that leaders devote more than half of their time to managing relationships outside their direct line of responsibility. Of course, this includes time spent with customers and suppliers, but also negotiating and coordinating with peers, staff from other units and functions, as well as their contact networks. Even with their own subordinates, managers soon discover that formal authority has its limits, hence the rising popularity of participative approaches which involve getting employees on board to improve performance. What is more, the younger generations are decreasingly willing to subscribe to authority’s point of view for its own sake.

Therefore, the ability to mobilize people outside of one’s formal scope of authority has become a critical success factor. And even if direct authority is seldom enough to compel others to conform to your wishes, the lack thereof deprives you of key levers, such as the power to command attention, allocate resources, sanction performance, etc. Indeed, lateral leadership is exercised in a very different context from that of traditional top-down management. The experts say the secret is to think like a partner, a mindset not frequently observed. How many project leaders rely on a mandate from the top to get other units to collaborate? How many functional managers act as if every part of the business must automatically bow to policies decreed by headquarters?

Creating equitable arrangements in which the benefits are shared by the various constituents is much more effective in today’s business context than trying to force people to obey orders. So, how to accomplish this?

Synthèse n°185b


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