Agility, Guidance
Lateral leadership – tips for leadership without power

Table of contents

Lateral leadership – tips for leadership without authority

What is lateral leadership? Lateral leadership is leadership without power. -But how does that work? We explain what lateral leadership is, why you need it and give you tips on how to persuade instead of command.

Who is lateral guidance suitable for?

Time and again, customers ask us desperately how they can move a task or project forward together with colleagues without having authority over the others. This can be the project manager, whose project team consists of people who work on many projects. This could be someone who wants to drive forward decisions in a cross-hierarchical competence team. This question also concerns the managing director, who works with his employees in the management team on an equal footing, without anyone wearing a hierarchical hat.

What is lateral leadership?

Lateral leadership is leadership without disciplinary authority, i.e. influencing others without being allowed to make an announcement.

Why lateral leadership?

At a time when matrix organizations and self-organized project teams are often the organizational form of choice, the question of leadership at eye level is more topical than ever. With the agile structures that more and more companies are introducing, leadership through hierarchical power is often no longer possible. And the shortage of skilled workers that prevails in many functions is also forcing companies to think differently about hierarchical bosses, because a superior who is only convincing because he has hierarchical power over his employees is anything but motivating – and will deter rather than attract the urgently needed skilled workers. Lateral leadership will therefore gradually become more common.

The challenges of leading without power

If lateral leadership is to be more than just a cheap way to reduce personnel costs, then this management style can be the answer to the question: How can we inspire people and organize work in such a way that it brings joy, strength and energy to everyone involved? How can you invite people to work together in a self-organized way and on an equal footing?
So how do you drive projects forward without having authority to issue instructions?


The 3-fold legitimation according to Gloger



The decisive basis is: Lateral leadership needs legitimacy. Only clear legitimization provides the credibility and strength for successful lateral leadership. Legitimation refers to Gloger’s 3-fold legitimation, which we explain in more detail below.

The 3-fold legitimation according to Gloger

1. legitimization by the system.

It is clear: you are wanted by the management.
If you aspire to lateral leadership, you also have the task of influencing people in an agile organization and you need the legitimacy to do this for the benefit of all. It is important that your role is clear. It is also important that it is made public what responsibilities you have and what powers you have. This transparency strengthens your assertiveness.

2. the legitimization by your team.

The team accepts you as someone who has something to say.
You have to earn this legitimacy through the way you lead people. It comes from your way of creating a space in which everyone can develop their potential. Here it is helpful to consider the power dynamics and use them to your advantage. A key question is how you can create trust, because lateral leadership requires trust. Then you can see which structures support your acceptance as a lateral manager.

3. self-legitimization.

You trust yourself.
Through the deep inner knowledge that your role is valuable, your non-verbal signals become powerful and credible. We always influence each other and you have the right to inspire people for what is important to you. This inner legitimacy comes from the fact that you enjoy leading people. From an inner high status, you can easily be generous and allow other people the space to unfold. This inner security enables you to deal confidently with power dynamics. These support or enable your recognition as a leader even without hierarchical means.
It is an art to find your own way to effectiveness and credibility.
It’s not about manipulating, but about influencing. A subtle and decisive difference.
Here are some parameters on how to strengthen leadership in groups and teams through careful influencing:


Hierarchy-free leadership


Influence without authority to issue instructions

– Ten tips for lateral leadership

1. build trust!

Your credibility is supported by honesty, transparency, integrity and by being authentic.

2. be energetic!

The decisive factor is the energy with which you are in the room. If you are the person in the room with the most energy, no one will take the lead out of your hands so quickly. Your enthusiasm for what you do should be tangible.

3. steer the conversation in the direction you want it to go by asking questions!

Whoever asks sets the focus of perception. Ask for statements and comment on the statements of others: The granting of presentation space, praise and recognition signals who is in charge here. People want to be seen. You can give way to others, but not quietly and unnoticed.

4. you set the frame!

Whoever sets the timing and the framework is the host and has influence. Use moderation methods: Whoever decides on the meeting structures and determines the methods to be used influences the working methods. The host sets the rules. If you introduce rules, show the consequences. Remember, everyone leads themselves in complete autonomy. This means that you cannot control others, but you can increase the probability that what you want will happen.

5. create commitment!

Creating common goals is an effective tool for the lateral leader. Summarize the results, goals and decisions. People who are committed feel an inner obligation and act accordingly; the psychological law of consistency is at work.


Tips for lateral leadership


6. be a role model!

Show in your behavior what you want to see in your employees. In uncertain situations, people look to others for guidance. The principle of social proof works. (Cialdini) Allow doubt and uncertainty. But be optimistic!
We are all looking for solutions, nobody knows how to do it. The trick is to radiate the certainty that you know what to do in uncertain times.

7. use the law of reciprocity!

Open the game of give and take. Make small concessions and offers. The law of reciprocity will work and your participants will usually behave fairly and pay back what they have received.

8. establish rituals that signal reliability!

Rituals create a feeling of security and connection. And people want to feel a sense of belonging and connection.

9. everyone does the best they can!

– Internalize and live this golden rule of feedback culture! This creates a culture of goodwill in which cooperation can succeed on an equal footing.

10. use the power of language!

Use metaphors!

Metaphors make your wishes visible and emotionalize them in a positive way.

Find out motivations, preferences and values!

Listen to people’s limbic preferences and the patterns that move them. If you know what motives and needs are important to your fellow human beings, what different interests they have, then you can address these in your argumentation and exert influence. It is your job as a lateral leader to share a strong why with people so that they see a purpose in what you want to create together. This pull motivation is the answer to “I understand what moves you in life”, “It is important to me to know what is important to you” and to provide answers as to why it is worth tackling this task together now.

Use internal language!

Use internal language, which means: issue invitations and keep in mind that people want to decide autonomously. No one in a hierarchy-free environment wants to be told what to do or given a work assignment by others; they want to be asked and decide for themselves.


Leading without power -lateral leadership


Conclusion: Convince instead of command

Lateral leadership is not about pulling the wool over people’s eyes or reeling them in, but rather about sparking genuine enthusiasm and creating a real sense of purpose. Subtle influence takes place every day as a matter of course. Mostly below the threshold of perception. And power dynamics work in teams, regardless of whether you are aware of them or not.
If you know the status games and answer them confidently in your own way, you will keep the lead in your hand, otherwise someone else will take over or chaos will ensue.

Fished out of the net

Here is another link: The 4 competence fields of lateral leadership according to Karsten Ritschl are a good basis for optimizing the competencies and potential of lateral managers precisely for agile work.
You can also read our articles on the topic of agility.

The authors

Oliver Grätsch
Michelle 550
Michelle Templin
Christian Grätsch
Matthias Beikert
Susanne Grätsch
Monika Bt 550x550
Monika Steininger
Kai Hübner
Philipp Andresen 500x550
Philipp Andresen
Anna Isabell Arendt
Dr. Claudia Schmidt
Inga Kühn
Kassandra Knebel
Claudia Lehmann
Komplettes Team

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Berliner Team