In the recent MIT Sloan Management Review published in Harvard Business Review comparing vertical and horizontal leaderships, the author asserts, “The Industrial Revolution brought the decline of small-scale, cottage production and the rise of large, integrated businesses.” Adam Smith’s invisible hand with what Alfred D. Chandler Jr. called the “visible hand” of management.” They further assert in recognition of modern leadership as a “system of loose networks, virtual businesses, and peer-to-peer interactions.” So, yes, the pendulum seems to be swinging from vertical bureaucratic and authoritative leadership to more horizontal or flat management. Which type of leadership best fits our quest to manage businesses in the current marketplace successfully? We will explore these competing views to provide leaders with our opinions based on our work at SDIG, which goes beyond our national borders.
First, the pendulum seems to be swinging towards more horizontal management, which seems to fit into the current circumstance of knowledge construction driven by the innovative mindset of the present generation in the business world. On the contrary, the Industrial age embraced an archaic and authoritative leadership approach that does not align with the modern knowledge explosion driven by the internet that is enhanced by diversity as evidence of the contribution of a diverse population in the workplace. It supports the idea that different people are gifted differently and further argues that the days when one individual leader made decisions without considering blind spots that may exist are gone. In that case, you must provide a model of leadership that recognizes and supports creativity at all levels because no single individual has a monopoly on the generation of great ideas needed for success in the current environment.
John Dewey reminds us, “As new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and new opinions change with change of circumstances, instructions must change also and keep pace with time” (John Dewey, Freedom and Culture, 1939, p. 157). Isn’t it time for people, especially those in management leadership, to embrace John Dewey’s notion that as discoveries are made, new truths are disclosed? Moreover, new opinions change with the change of circumstances. Therefore, shouldn’t those in management leadership embrace horizontal engagement and fluid delegated management leadership, increasingly yielding better results than the old industrial management that has consistently proven to be an ineffective model in modern management?
The idea fits nicely into a system of loose networks, virtual businesses and peer-to-peer interactions, and cross-pollinating concepts that could instantaneously apply in real-time. Moreover, this horizontal leadership model aligns with the United States military leaders’ approach that offers leaders on the battlefield the opportunity to make quick decisions. Decisions that are in sharp contrast with Russia’s centralized bureaucratic and authoritative leadership that impedes quick and timely leadership decisions that make them vulnerable in the era of technological and media innovation. Research has consistently demonstrated that a company’s critical assets to success lie in the diversity that recognizes the diverse knowledge workers that are distributed across the organization with unique skills and opportunities to act under challenging situations in which they have the chance to assess objectively. At the same time, increasingly relying on a more subjective assessment of performance generates a distinctive comparative advantage for the advocates of a flat or horizontal management approach. We have seen modern organizations such as online retailer Zappos which consistently favors flat hierarchical management with widely distributed leadership authority.
Finally, this kind of leadership reminds us of the power of diversity and inclusion in the generation of new ideas and innovative leadership, which must be carried out by fluidity in management that foster significant success in modern management leadership.