7 Invisible Dynamics To Be Aware Of When Shifting Out of Hierarchy Into Distributed Leadership

If you’re part of a small team who you care about, and feel enlivened by, exploring a solution, innovation or shared purpose that you collectively feel inspired and galvanized to bring to the world;

You value freedom and fulfillment, fun and flexibility, passion and purpose;

You want to feel connected and in community, living in a thriving and interdependent ecosystem where you’re engaging with your peers in a space that feels truly collaborative in bringing your vision to Life; and

You have a desire to experience your own self-leadership, your autonomy and maximum creativity;

Then how do you ensure that you don’t just slip right on into the predominant and default pattern of one person being the “boss” in control at the top of a rigid hierarchical structure?

This is where it can become valuable to be aware of some of the invisible factors that are likely to affect how we show up, outside of our conscious awareness.

Because the fact is, most of us have developed up through hierarchical models of organizing…..

…..simply by virtue of our participation through the traditional schooling system, our time in the corporate world, or any military experience.

Which means that we have been trained (or conditioned) into hierarchical ways of thinking and behaving.

So, in order for us to show up differently than how we’ve been trained/conditioned, in order to do something new, creative and collaborative, it’s helpful for us to be aware of how this conditioning may have affected us at a subconscious level, so that we can shift and develop BEYOND it.

So, here are 7 invisible dynamics for you to be aware of in the shift from a traditional top down hierarchical way of operating, to a more distributed model of self-leadership:

1. In our schooling system, our attention is entrained on the teacher at the front of the room, who is positioned as the authority figure who provides us with the “answers”. Similarly, in the corporate world (or military), we are trained to look to those above us in the hierarchy, our managers and executives, for our orders, instructions and guidance;

2. Consequently, we tend to look at the person within our business or community endeavors who has the most power, resource or charisma, as the default “authority figure” with all the answers and power, inadvertently and unconsciously giving our own power and decision making control away to that ‘leader’, putting us in a position where we’re seeking permission to act or to contribute our perspective;

3. This can all too often have a reductive quality on our thinking and our creativity, because if we’re taking direction and accustomed to doing what we’re told to do all the time, then we’re less likely to be able to access creative inspiration and come up with the sorts of innovative solutions that we may be aiming for;

4. A similar reductive affect can be result from our models of learning and how we have been assessed both in school and vocational training — through multiple choice examination questions we are entrained into simulated thinking that leads our minds to pick ONE answer from a specific selection of answers, rather than to think creatively about “out of the box” solutions or simply bring a solution to the table and see how it lands;

5. In a hierarchy, in order to maintain control, order and linearity, there are usually tight controls on things like your working hours, your working location (at least until Covid happened and every was sent home!), your expression (particularly emotionally) and the permissions required to take vacations days. In contrast, a collaborative environment thrives on freedom and welcoming our whole humanity (meaning access to our full set of intelligences, including cognitive, emotional and spiritual) which offers greater access to our creativity;

6. If we want to operate within a distributed model that’s incumbent on self-leadership, then clear feedback loops are key and we’ll need to become the kind of people who can express ourselves, say what we see and give feedback to our peers in a way that’s supportive to the organism moving collectively toward the shared purpose or goal;

7. If there is one individual in the group who is in control of the resources, then given that access to resources go right to the heart of our safety and security, then unconsciously we are considerably LESS likely to give clear and direct feedback to that person for fear of resources being withdrawn or us being diminished in some way.

This is just a few of the invisible considerations to moving from a hierarchy to a distributed leadership model.

But what even these few considerations show, is that transitioning to distributed leadership is an individual and collective growth journey that invites everyone to be fully empowered and to bring forth their own unique gifts and maximum creative contribution.

Because if we’re going to be the kinds of people who don’t need to look to someone else to tell us what to do;

Or seek permission to act;

Then we need to be the kinds of people who are prepared to be self-led in bringing our own gifts and our own perspective to the table in our small groups;

Whilst also navigating the discomfort that comes up with that level of uncertainty;

Growing the capacity to be able to handle the emotions and relational tensions that come up;

So that as we’re learning to organize in a new way, we’re able to stay through it together.

As a former lawyer, Anna merges material world memories, tales of transformation and embodied experience in articulating the future of collaboration

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store