Flattening organizations and changing management’s role doesn’t mean we do away with leaders. Leadership is different from management. Leaders rise on their own. They do not seek to be “in charge” of other people for the sake of being in charge. They are individuals to whom others naturally pay attention.
We’ve all known leaders and managers. Rarely are they the same person. My experience in the web industry has been that managers are often assigned to their positions by other, higher managers with no regard to their leadership qualities. In a flat organization where managers do the managing of the work, this wouldn’t be an issue. In most cases though, managers believe they are there to lead — lack of leadership attributes notwithstanding.
The problem with this mentality is that these in-charge-of managers get in the way of the real decision makers. In-house, I’ve experienced micro-managers trying to assert their leadership by opining on the work of their team members when a brand manager will have the final sign-off. In agencies, I’ve watched client managers critique designs before showing the client. In both situations, the managers are mistaking themselves for leaders and decision makers. They are not. They are there to manage the work by communicating priorities, removing roadblocks, defending their team, and getting out of the way.
The other side of leadership is true influence. We know who the influential leaders are and if we’re open to feedback, we’ve already consulted them. Makers love to turn to our colleagues for critique. The people we work next to every day are the leaders we know and respect.
This noise from mid-level managers can be reduced by making it clear that management isn’t a step up the ladder but another role on a flat team.
One great step towards achieving this is deleting the term “manager” from your org chart. Try swapping in “producer” or “facilitator” or another term specific to your business. We’ve given too much weight to the word “Manager.” Let’s help them manage the work by defining their role better.
Another step is to reward real leadership. If we flatten the organization and lose the idea that management is a “promotion” to a position over others, then we have to be creative with rewarding the real leaders on our teams. Start by recognizing them and listening to them. They have their fingers on the pulse better than the “managers.”