Sagacious | Leading Without Hierarchy

Managing a team of colleagues 10+ years my senior has its challenges.

Wary of ego conflicts, I attempt to sidestep them through “leading without hierarchy” – not using my position as leverage, but instead referring to the client, schedule, and project needs.

Not:

“I need you to complete this by Friday.”

But instead:

“I’ve created a schedule for this design phase; to stay on target, your task needs to be done by Friday.”

For the most part, this works well. Work gets done, the team is consistently oriented towards project goals, and interpersonal conflict is minimal. It aligns with my belief that leadership is best built cooperatively, earned through trust, and is less a judgement of overall ability and more about designating roles.

But.

Sometimes, deadlines are fast approaching and tighter, stronger leadership under a single voice is required. There is not always time to explain in detail or to negotiate. I try to lay the hammer down… And find there is no hammer. The hierarchy, intentionally, has not been established, the authority must come from elsewhere, and I feel out of practice.

There is also the issue of credit not given where it is due. Folks who don’t recognize this style of leadership occasionally mistake one of my colleagues for the manager, at worst assuming their role based on their age or gender rather than their actual responsibilities.

Leading without hierarchy is a strategy that aligns with my values, but is flawed in that it is more challenging to run a tight ship when circumstances call for it.

Practice makes perfect. What strategies do you use to lead?

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