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A look back at horizontal leadership on my project



Kirjoittanut: Kevin Di Silvestro - tiimistä Crevio.

Esseen tyyppi: Akateeminen essee / 3 esseepistettä.

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KIRJA KIRJAILIJA
Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration
Bennis, W. G., & Biederman
Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 11 minuuttia.

Horizontal leadership represents an innovative and inclusive management approach, in stark contrast to traditional hierarchical models. In this essay, I will take a personal perspective to explore the principles and effectiveness of this leadership method, incorporating relevant theories and sources.
In exploring the genesis and tumultuous journey of my Greenby project, I came face to face with a complex and instructive reality. Founded on the ambition to create bridges between companies seeking to adopt sustainable practices and innovators capable of responding to these challenges, Greenby was intended to be more than just a start-up; it embodied a hope for ecological transformation in the business world.

My commitment to horizontal leadership was driven by the belief that egalitarian and transparent collaboration could unlock unparalleled creative and innovative potential. However, the dynamics within our team did not reflect this vision. Rather than feeling like co-founders, some team members seemed to settle into a traditional boss-employee relationship, despite my efforts to encourage shared participation and decision-making. This dissonance prompted me to do some deep introspection. Was this the result of leadership errors on my part, or was the initial selection of team members not in line with the culture I wanted to establish? The question was all the more pertinent given that, despite open discussions and my promotion of a horizontal model, the sense of belonging and commitment as co-founder did not emerge as hoped.
The decision to pause the project and ask others to step aside was a difficult but necessary one. It gave me the space to reflect not only on the future of Greenby but also on the foundations of horizontal leadership and its implications. Horizontal leadership, with its emphasis on equality, trust and collaboration, has many benefits, such as greater organisational agility, increased employee engagement, and a stronger capacity for innovation. However, it also brings challenges, including the need for highly effective communication, the risk of decision-making paralysis and the difficulty of maintaining a clear course without a traditional leadership structure.

This interlude enabled me to understand that the success of horizontal leadership depends not only on the vision of the leader but also on the ability of the team members to commit fully to this model. The selection of team members, their alignment with the company’s vision and their willingness to adopt a collaborative approach are crucial. In addition, horizontal leadership requires a maturity, trust and communication that must be actively cultivated.
My reflection on Greenby’s journey raises fundamental questions about how we think about leadership and engagement in the context of innovative startups. It highlights the importance of values alignment, clarity of expectations, and the need to actively support structures that facilitate true shared leadership.
In writing this article, I seek not only to explore the boundaries and theories behind the principle of horizontal leadership, but also to share an introspection on my personal experience. My goal is to provide insights that may help other entrepreneurs navigate the complexities of leading in a rapidly changing world, while remaining true to their values and vision.

 

I. Introduction to Horizontal Leadership
Horizontal leadership, also known as “shared leadership” or “flat management”, is an organisational structure that focuses on the distribution of power and responsibility. This approach fosters the autonomy of individuals and teams, encouraging them to work together more democratically. The underlying theory is based on the idea that decisions can and should be taken by those closest to the operational activities, rather than by a handful of leaders at the top of the hierarchy (Extract from Horizontal Leadership | Accountable to Each Other, 2020).

 

II. Fundamental principles
In my opinion, the effectiveness of horizontal leadership is based on several key principles. Firstly, equality in decision-making: this approach encourages all team members to share their ideas and participate in important decisions, which can increase innovation and job satisfaction (Greenleaf, 1977). Secondly, open and transparent communication is crucial to ensure that all team members are informed and engaged. Thirdly, mutual trust between employees and leaders is essential for this model to work effectively. Trust is the cornerstone of Lencioni, enabling fruitful collaboration without the need for constant supervision (MindTools | Home, n.d.).

 

Different forms of horizontal leadership :
Adopting horizontal leadership requires a deep understanding of its theoretical underpinnings for effective implementation. In this additional section, I will integrate key theoretical elements that support the effectiveness and relevance of this leadership approach.

A. Complex systems theory
According to complex systems theory, organisations are seen as collections of many interacting agents that together form a complex system. In this context, horizontal leadership is seen as a suitable approach for managing complexity and uncertainty, as it enables a more agile and flexible response to changes in the environment. The decentralisation of decision-making power enables organisations to adapt more quickly, as decisions can be taken closer to the point of action (Stacey, 2000).

B. Self-determination theory
Deci and Ryan’s (1985) theory of self-determination maintains that for individuals to reach their full potential, they need three things: autonomy, competence and connectedness. Horizontal leadership responds directly to these needs. By fostering an environment where employees have more control over their work, this approach reinforces their sense of autonomy. Collaboration and shared responsibility increase feelings of competence, and by working closely with colleagues as equals, employees develop a deeper sense of connectedness (La Motivation Autodétterminée des Élèves En Éducation Physique : État de la Question, n. d.).

C. Contingency theory
Fiedler’s contingency theory (1967) proposes that leadership effectiveness depends on the match between the leader’s leadership style and the situation. In the context of horizontal leadership, this theory suggests that the effectiveness of this approach can vary according to the nature of the team, the task and the organisational context. For example, in highly innovative and changing environments, where flexibility and creativity are paramount, horizontal leadership can be particularly beneficial (Asana, 2024).

D. Servant leadership
Finally, the concept of servant leadership, popularised by Greenleaf (1977), fits in well with the principles of horizontal leadership. Servant leadership focuses on the growth and well-being of individuals and communities. In a horizontal setting, leaders act as facilitators, focusing on supporting team members to achieve their goals, rather than exercising authoritarian power. This approach reinforces the culture of empowerment and mutual commitment within organisations.

 

III. Benefits of Horizontal Leadership
Horizontal leadership offers a number of significant benefits, revolving around collaboration, trust and innovation. These benefits reflect a profound shift away from traditional leadership models based on hierarchy and control.

1. Communication and trust: Open communication and mutual trust are the pillars of horizontal leadership. In this model, influence is based on trust rather than hierarchical position, which encourages free and direct communication between individuals and teams. (Owens, 2021)
2. Relationships and collaboration: Personal relationships play a central role in building trust and developing reciprocal influence. This model favours the absence of traditional followers, replacing the leader-follower dynamic with mutually influenced peers, which strengthens collaboration and team spirit. (Owens, 2021)
3. Innovation and creativity: Adopting horizontal leadership unleashes creativity and innovation by involving employees more in the decision-making process. By moving away from exclusive reliance on innovation from the top, companies can harness a greater diversity of ideas and solutions. (Owens, 2021)
4. Organisational responsiveness and agility: Organisations that adopt a horizontal model are often more agile and can react more quickly to changes in the environment. This responsiveness is due to decision making being less dependent on traditional gatekeepers and decisions being implemented more quickly. (Owens, 2021)
5. Employee commitment and motivation: By actively involving employees in the company’s success, horizontal leadership increases their commitment and motivation. Employees don’t just work for pay, but also for personal success and fulfilment, feeling part of something bigger than themselves (Owens, 2021).
6. Autonomy and empowerment: Horizontal leadership encourages employee autonomy, giving them the freedom to approach work in their own way and to make decisions. This autonomy is supported by a healthy feedback loop and leadership opportunities, fostering an environment where employees are encouraged to innovate and challenge the status quo (Owens, 2021).

One of the major benefits I see in horizontal leadership is its ability to mobilise creativity and innovation within teams. By giving every employee the opportunity to contribute to decisions, organisations can tap into a wide range of perspectives and skills (Bennis & Biederman, 2007). In addition, this approach can improve employee engagement and job satisfaction, as they feel valued and listened to.

 

IV. Challenges and limitations
However, horizontal leadership is not without its challenges. One of the main obstacles is the risk of decision-making paralysis, where decision-making can be slowed down due to the need for consensus. Furthermore, in large organisations, the absence of a clear reporting structure can lead to confusion over roles and responsibilities (Kotter, 2012). Horizontal leadership, while holding much promise in terms of employee engagement and innovation, presents significant challenges and limitations that deserve particular attention. Delving deeper into this section, I will explore in more detail the barriers associated with this leadership approach (Plane, n. d.).

 

A. Decision paralysis
The risk of decision paralysis is particularly high in horizontal leadership systems where decision-making is based on consensus. Although consensus-building can lead to more considered and inclusive decisions, it can also cause significant delays. The need to obtain the agreement of all members on every decision can prove impractical, especially in situations requiring a rapid response or in contexts where opinions are strongly divergent. This slowness in decision-making can compromise the organisation’s ability to respond effectively to market opportunities or external threats. I have often found it difficult to make key decisions for Greenby. Pierrick, an active member of our team, regularly urged me to gain confidence in my own decisions, stressing the importance of not being systematically guided by the needs of the team. According to him, constantly prioritising these needs to the detriment of the project’s objectives could harm our productivity and cause confusion. Looking back, I realise that he was right. By placing too much emphasis on individual desires, I sometimes overshadowed Greenby’s vision and priorities, which did indeed lead to a drop in our collective effectiveness. This experience taught me the importance of balancing the expectations of the team with the needs of the project, a delicate balance to maintain for any leader aspiring to a horizontal leadership model. (Half, 2022)

 

B. Confusion of Roles and Responsibilities
In traditional organisational structures, roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, helping to guide employees in their day-to-day tasks. However, in a horizontal leadership model, the absence of a clear hierarchy can make these definitions less obvious. This ambiguity can lead to confusion about who is responsible for what, resulting in duplication of tasks or, conversely, tasks being neglected because everyone thinks someone else is doing them. This confusion can affect not only operational efficiency but also the morale of employees, who can feel frustrated by the lack of clarity in their duties. This dynamic was particularly prevalent in the development of Greenby. From the very first days of the project, I tended to quickly integrate a large number of people, convinced that quantity would be synonymous with diversity and richness for the project. This openness, although driven by a desire for rapid growth, turned out to be a double-edged sword. After just six months, several of these employees jumped ship, leaving the project in a precarious situation. Convinced that there was a solution in numbers, I again opened the doors of Greenby to new recruits the following half-year, this time hoping that the abundance of hands at work would propel the project to unprecedented heights. (Half, 2022)

This cycle of frequent arrivals and departures has, however, led to significant instability within Greenby. The lack of continuity led to poor management of human resources and individual skills. More troubling still, several members of the team told me that they had no clear understanding of their role or the tasks assigned to them. This confusion reveals a fundamental problem: was it the result of a lack of co-founding philosophy and personal initiative, or rather the symptom of chronic instability within the project?

With hindsight, I realise that this situation reflected less a lack of will or commitment on the part of the members than the absence of a clear and stable structure. The desire to encourage everyone to take initiatives and become deeply involved in the project was laudable, but without a clearly defined and communicated framework, it was inevitable that vagueness and disengagement would set in. This observation led me to reflect on the importance not only of building a solid, committed team, but also of ensuring clarity of mission and roles from the outset. A valuable lesson for the future of Greenby and for any entrepreneurial project aspiring to a horizontal and inclusive leadership model.

 

C. Conflict management
Horizontal leadership encourages the expression of opinions and the participation of everyone in decision-making. While this can strengthen commitment, it can also increase the risk of interpersonal conflict, especially when opinions differ. Conflict management then becomes a major challenge, as the absence of clear authority makes it difficult to resolve these differences quickly and authoritatively. The need to manage conflict through dialogue and negotiation can, in some cases, slow down the decision-making process and affect team cohesion. This method can also be particularly difficult to implement in large organisations with established structures and rigid processes. The transition to a flatter model can be hampered by resistance to change, both from employees used to defined roles and responsibilities, and from managers who may perceive the change as a loss of power and authority. In addition, coordination and communication between different departments or teams can become more complex without a clear hierarchy to guide the flow of information and decisions.
At Greenby, my conflict management seemed effective on the surface, but with hindsight I realise that it didn’t lead to any tangible results. I feel that I lost control of the project, not because I neglected my team, but because I may have put too much emphasis on listening and meeting everyone’s needs to the detriment of the project’s direction and objectives. This approach, although well-intentioned, probably hampered our ability to move forward in a coherent and productive way. Reflecting on the dynamics of our team, I realise that we didn’t devote enough time to collective work sessions or team building activities. Yet, as I pointed out in an essay, building a team is similar to developing a relationship: it requires time, commitment and joint efforts to strengthen bonds and mutual understanding. Building a solid, united team is crucial if we are to move forward together towards a common goal. Time spent outside the strictly professional environment, whether work-related or more informal, is essential for building bonds of trust and mutual appreciation.
This realisation makes me realise the importance of striking a balance between listening and responding to the individual needs of the team and maintaining a clear direction and shared vision. Team building activities, in particular, play a vital role in creating a sense of belonging and unity, which can go a long way to improving productivity and commitment.
Managing conflict and building a strong team requires a more nuanced approach, combining listening, clear direction and shared moments. This means creating opportunities to work together constructively and investing in activities that strengthen the sense of team. These lessons will be invaluable to me as I pursue my ambitions with Greenby, as well as any future projects where collaboration and team spirit are key. (Managing Conflict as a Horizontal Leader | PINKTUM, n.d.)

A. Decision paralysis
B. Role and responsibility confusion
C. Conflict management

V. Conclusion
In conclusion, horizontal leadership offers a promising alternative to traditional management models, with its emphasis on collaboration, autonomy and democratic participation. Although it presents certain challenges, particularly in terms of time management and role clarity, I firmly believe that the potential benefits in terms of innovation, job satisfaction and employee engagement make it an approach to be seriously considered. The successful implementation of horizontal leadership requires a strong organisational culture based on trust, transparency and mutual respect. With the right practices and an open mindset, organisations can successfully navigate through challenges and reap the full benefits of horizontal leadership.

As I continue to reflect on horizontal leadership and my journey with Greenby, I find that this adventure has presented me with valuable challenges and lessons. My search for an innovative management model, based on equality, trust and collaboration, has revealed both the immense potential and the obstacles inherent in such an approach. While the ideal of horizontal leadership continues to guide my vision for Greenby, my experiences have taught me the crucial importance of thoughtful implementation tailored to the complex reality of a start-up. Experience has shown me that the success of horizontal leadership depends largely on the ability of the team to fully embrace this philosophy. The selection of team members, their alignment with the project’s values and their commitment to constructive collaboration are essential. However, I’ve learned that communication, clear role definition and effective conflict management are just as crucial to maintaining team cohesion and productivity.

The break at Greenby gave me a valuable opportunity to reassess and adjust. It allowed me to reaffirm my commitment to a horizontal model, while recognising the need to adapt this vision to the practical realities of leadership and team management. The balance between listening and directing, the clarity of shared objectives, and the strengthening of links within the team are all elements that I intend to integrate more resolutely into my approach.

Through this introspection and the writing of this article, I hope to have shed some light on the challenges and opportunities of horizontal leadership. My aim is to inspire other entrepreneurs to explore this path, while remaining mindful of the lessons learned from my experience. Horizontal leadership, with its principles of sharing, equality and collaboration, is more than just a management method: it embodies a profound philosophy capable of transforming organisations and the individuals who make them up.

Finally, I see Greenby’s future with a mixture of realism and optimism. The lessons learnt, the difficulties overcome and the successes shared form the foundation on which I hope to build the next phase of this ambitious project. Horizontal leadership, though fraught with pitfalls, remains a promising path for those who, like me, aspire to a more inclusive and innovative business world.
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Online Source
Asana, T. (2024, 26 January). Fiedler’s contingency theory: a leadership style for every situation [2024] – Asana. Asana. https://asana.com/fr/resources/fiedlers-contingency-theory

Excerpt from Le leadership horizontal | Redevables les uns envers les autres [2020, October 4]. La Presse. https://www.lapresse.ca/debats/2020-10-04/extrait-de-le-leadership-horizontal/redevables-les-uns-envers-les-autres.php

Half, R. (2022, September 6). Definition, advantages and limits of a horizontal organization. Blog | Robert Half. https://www.roberthalf.fr/blog/management/organisation-horizontale-transversale#:~:text=The%20horizontal%20organization%20may%20sometimes%20project%20should%20%C3%AAre%20clearly%20identified%C3%A9s.

Managing conflict as a horizontal leader | PINKTUM (n.d.). PINKTUM. https://www.pinktum.com/fr/e-learnings/leadership/g%C3%A9rer-les-conflits-en-tant-que-leader-horizontal-kmi126-de/

Stacey, R. (2000). THE EMERGENCE OF KNOWLEDGE IN ORGANIZATIONS. University of Herdfordshire. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232992375_The_Emergence_of_Knowledge_in_Organization

La motivation auto-dterminée des élèves en éducation physique : état de la question. (n.d.). Cairn.info. https://www.cairn.info/revue-staps-2010-2-page-7.htm#:~:text=Le%20mod%C3%A8le%20de%20l’auto,ou%20non%20dans%20une%20activit%C3%A9.
Owens, J. (2021, September 10). Seven Key Advantages to Horizontal Leadership – BLOG POSTS – ILI Team. ILI Team. https://iliteam.org/coreleadership/seven-key-advantages-to-horizontal-leadership

Plane, J. (n. d.). Chapter 4. Les approches contemporaines du management. Cairn.info. https://www.cairn.info/management-des-organisations–9782100788781-page-159.htm

Books
Bennis, W. G., & Biederman, P. W. (2007). Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration. Hachette UK. https://books.google.fi/books/about/Organizing_Genius.html?id=19Q4DgAAQBAJ&redir_esc=y
Greanleaf, R. K. (1977). Servant Leadership. Paulist Press.
Kotter, J. P. (2012). Leading the change. Harvard Business Press. https://books.google.fi/books/about/Leading_Change.html?id=xpGX1EWL_EMC&redir_esc=y pp 10-20

 

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