Organizing for success: Leadership Structure 2.0

Despite the tens of thousands of books on the subject, the concept and practice of leadership remain mysterious and often illusive. Early in human history one could be the tallest, the smartest, the strongest, and be considered a good leader. Indeed trait theory was for time a major leadership development concept. We wondered whether leaders were born or made (nature vs. nurture).

But rather than becoming simpler, the complexity of the post-modern world requires a more nuanced understanding of leadership and the structures that are required to illicit high quality leadership practice. For example most people in businesses possess college degrees and are ready to be productive from their first day on the job. Within a short time most people no longer need the guidance of a micromanager or perhaps a traditional manager. Yet we continue to rely on the hierarchical leadership as the primary structure in which organization work must be undertaken. Rather than simplifying work, over-reliance on the organization chart can make it more difficult for people to succeed.

Once a crazy idea implemented by only few outliers, the notion of distributed leadership is slowly taking hold as the shortcomings of the hierarchy become more obvious. More organizations are using structure as a source of competitive advantage by using their people and financial resources more creatively effectively. The graphic below provides a variety of organization structures. My new book, Getting Unstuck: Using Leadership Paradox to Execute with Confidence provides a number of examples of alternate structures and how they can be effectively deployed.


I’ve been working through this issue for a number of years and I have come to the conclusion that one of the easiest and fastest ways to create distributive leadership, thus unleashing the power of people to work at higher levels, is not to initially focus on individual talent. Rather it is faster and easier to provide practical approaches to the common leadership challenges. The new language, processes, and tools required to help people better function at strategic and integrative levels are often easier to learn and in return provide a powerful punch simultaneously to the bottom line and to employee engagement than traditional development approaches. Instead the broad use of leadership tools pave the way for leadership to become a core organization competence. For example the use of Six Sigma and Lean tools made it far easier for organizations to deliver higher level of quality without incurring significant costs.

What do leadership tools look like? What can they do?

Why use leadership tools? They provide a structure that reduces political posturing; they open up the space for more thorough analysis and thus the creation of better ideas; they reduce the white space between the organization’s internal and external silos. It is relatively cheap to implement, provides an almost instantaneous return on the investment if presented in the right way, it creates sustainability in the market place.

Stephen Gil, a colleague, and I have been working with ASTD (American Society of Training and Development) on this issue.  Here is the second in our series of three blogs. This one focuses on different kinds of leadership tools and provides some examples.

Your reactions to the blog are welcome.

  • What alternate organization structures have you used?
  • What concepts and tools have you used to elevate leadership intelligence
  • What have been the challenges of implementing them?
  • What worked/didn’t?
  • How have these improved business performance?


Examples of other leadership structures

In my American Executive Magazine article I lay out a number of leadership structures and the situations for which they are best suited. In other words, we can augment the hierarchy with other leadership models creating a high level of workforce flexibility.

If you are interested in learning more about strategic thinking tools, please contact me at and I will be happy to share some with you!!