Leadership – What Shape Is Yours?

BLOG POST | Nov 17, 2014

I know it sounds funny to talk about the shape or form of leadership, but let me do a quick thought-exercise with you.  If you are not already a convert to high performance organization (HPO) work, your organization is probably shaped like this:


Lots of basic employees, reporting to supervisors (which is a position that is a ‘promotion’ for employees to aspire to). The supervisors report to the managers, who are few in number.  Decisions, ideas, orders come from the top and move down.  Employees have little chance to have input into the running of the organization.


Now think about a ‘flat’ organization.  Maybe it is shaped like this, where supervisors are cut out of the equation:Slide1 

What kind of involvement in decision-making or goal-setting do the employees have?  What is the role of the manager here? How does discipline take place?


But these are not the only ‘shapes’ for organizations.   What if an organization were shaped like this?  Slide2

What is the role of the leader or manager?  What would her job description look like?


What if the organization looked like this?         


Or like this?                     


Ask yourself questions about who has authority? Over what issues/activities? Who makes decisions about goals, strategy, work plans, hiring/firing? How are performance reviews done? Who is reviewed? Who reviews?


The HPO model that we use proposes that leadership is about 3 elements: a set of beliefs, a set of functions, and a set of forms. The last example (in purple) is a way that the networked talent model is applied.  The networked talent model is about sharing power within an organization – in specific formal and informal ways.  Here we see that power is diffuse, centered in many places.  The connections between parts – call them teams or work units – is close. Individuals are members of several work units to accomplish different tasks. They are in those various work units because of their expertise, experience, talents, and interest.  There’s no hierarchy here. Teams may dissolve when a task is done.


You’re kidding, right?  No, I’m not.  Companies like Ideo and Johnsonville Foods have been doing it for years.  New Belgium Brewery is newer on the scene.  In the networked talent shape these companies are all extremely successful at doing their core business (design, sausages, and beer respectively).  And they are also good at holding on to talented employees who are then engaged, happy, and committed.  The model works.


Getting there takes the vision and dedicated approach of people throughout the organization. No, it’s not easy to get this shape of leadership structure in place.  And it's even harder to keep it there at first.  But when it is in place and working, when people throughout an organization are expected to contribute their best, expected to make decisions that impact their productivity and relationships, and are given the authority and support to do so, magic starts to happen.




Please note:  We offer an introductory seminar to the HPO model through various ICMA mechanisms.  CMS can also help you get long-term assistance in applying the model and the principles to your organization.  Be on the look out for notices or contact Cheryl Hilvert if you would like to host an HPO Open Enrollment session or for further information.



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