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Leadership in groups, teams, and cross functional situations can be referred to as horizontal leadership.

When you see leadership as a function not just of an individual, but of an entire system or organization it opens up leadership as a set of attributes that could come from any and all parts of the system. In fact, leadership is needed from all parts of the system if the organization is to remain successful in highly competitive times. From this perspective, a highly effective team or group of people expects and receives leadership contributions from every member, not just the officially designated leader. While it is possible to have too many bosses (that is, too many people unilaterally telling others what to do) and not enough followers (or doers), it is not possible to have too much leadership, meaning the behaviors needed to help a team develop and achieve its goals.

You do not need formal organizational authority to use horizontal leadership. You can seize the moment on any particular assignment. Don’t waste time proposing an untested idea to your leader. Find someone to test the idea with, out of sight, where you can gather the data, do the rapid prototype work, and then go after the support of the formal management structure of the organization. Gandhi had no formal authority, but look what he pulled off. Horizontal leadership is a way of thinking, not a position. It is the ability to quickly find common ground and solve problems for the good of all. Horizontal leadership can represent your own interests and yet be fair to other groups too. It includes solve problems with peers with a minimum of noise. Horizontal leaders are and are seen as a team player and cooperative. They easily gain the trust and support of their peers. Their candid way with peers builds trust.

The term politics means getting things done through people. It is what leaders do. If you expect to get anything done, you have to become politically savvy. Politics is listening, compromising, standing your ground when necessary. It is the word that characterizes relations between humans. Some people express disdain for politics, but politics are fact of human relations and ignoring it completely can reduce your influence and leadership effectiveness. Political savvy can also mean being able to maneuver through complex political situations effectively and without a lot of noise. Political savvy means being sensitive to how people and organizations function and anticipating where the problems or ‘land mines’ are and planning your approach accordingly. Instead of hiding behind the excuse that you don’t like politics, try seeing organizational politics as a necessary part of organizational life and work to adjust to that reality.

Leaders often need to develop networks and build alliances, engaging in cross-functional activities where it makes sense in the broader scope of partners and stakeholder organizations in an enterprise. Leaders collaborate across boundaries, and find common ground with a widening range of stakeholders at the local, regional, and even global level (if appropriate), and use their contacts to build and strengthen internal bases of support. Effective leaders tend to be knowledgeable about how organizations work and know how to get things done both through formal channels and the informal network. Seek to understand the original reasoning behind key policies, practices, and procedures.

Understand the organizational culture. Understand why groups tend to do what they do. Be able to describe a sense of the group in terms of positions, intentions, needs, what various people value, how to gain support, and how to motivate them. This cultural understanding helps you to predict what groups will do across different situations so you can be effective.

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KW Lanham


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