Rethinking organizational leadership

Traditional hierarchical organizational infrastructures are obsolete because they stifle growth and innovation. To progress we need a leadership model that empowers employees to build an agile and flexible business.

Leadership determines an organization’s identity by establishing workflows, productivity, efficiencies and motivation levels. While hierarchical leadership may have worked in the past, the world has changed. Industries are being disrupted by new technologies, and businesses are now connected 24/7 across the globe. Organizations are increasingly complex and require collaboration to thrive.

Although executive teams set the strategic direction, employees need to make it work. This is where leadership is changing, because at a local level, employees want to own the action plan. They want to operate in an autonomous environment that gives them the freedom to make decisions that will make the vision at the top a reality.

Don’t forget that local employees are the ones that are customer facing. Account teams make things happen and are instrumental in enabling customer agility. They don’t want to be held back by hierarchical and inflexible leadership where decision making is painfully slow thanks to endless layers of approval.

Collaboration is key

I believe that the trend towards collective working is helping knock down the hierarchical pyramid, from what I like to call a “me” to a “we” model. In the past, it was possible to be successful on one’s own, but with the increasing complexity of markets, teamwork is paramount.

The result is a flattened management structure where account team leaders seek out the competencies and skills of others in the workplace to lead a collective to achieve targets, whereby the (middle) management is acting as coach and facilitator.

Where does the buck stop?

The big question is who takes responsibility? In my line of business, those are the local teams responsible for the customer relationship. For example, a key role in the team is the account manager, who I call the account CEO.

Under our “we” model, the local customer teams have more freedom. They can make decisions as a collective to act quicker to changing environments. This means they can address specific market needs faster, resolving issues swiftly and thereby making customers more agile.

As a direct result of this, I’ve seen a rise in teams asking for negotiation mandates. Instead of having to go back to a deal approval committee every time they want to tweak a price, which is lengthy and time consuming, they have flexibility and autonomy to maneuver themselves. Customers have one point of contact, decisions are made faster and the whole process is more efficient.

Building trust

Trust is a crucial element in making the “we” leadership model work. You can empower people to make decisions, but that doesn’t mean everyone wants to take that responsibility. You need to create an open and trusted environment where people do not feel they will be punished for standing up and making a decision.

Everyone has something to contribute

It is clear that the power of collaborative leadership comes from a collective team that has more freedom with resources. Companies that don’t adopt this way of thinking will become increasingly rigid and find it impossible to transform.

The take away here is that this “we” model of leadership doesn’t come from the top. They are the ones with the global vision. It comes from customer-facing employees that make the day-to-day difference and from cooperative structures that encourage innovation, knowledge learning, better decision making – and ultimately boost business.

Improve your productivity by unleashing your team’s potential. Read more about how you can incorporate collaboration tools into the workplace here.
Frank Baggermans

Frank is Managing Director of Benelux and leads enterprise activities across Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. He studied commercial economics and marketing in Utrecht and has over 20 years of business and technology leadership experience. Frank is the proud father of two sons and, in his free time, he enjoys being with his family and friends, sailing, playing tennis, golfing and experiencing new sights.