Leading Sideways

For many people, the most difficult challenge they will ever face is recognizing the call to lead while at the same time realizing that they have no formal authority. How is one expected to lead sideways?

Canoes on the South Branch of the Raritan River in New Jersey
Canoes on the South Branch of the Raritan River in New Jersey

For organizations, these subtle and often unnoticed moments are actually critical for long-term success. They make or break innovation and change because they are the decision gateways that determine if a good idea takes hold.

These moments either enable and accelerate the spread of change, or they impede the forces that drive learning and enable change. Which of these happens depends upon whether or not someone chooses to lead. Failing to step up in these critical moments denies the organization the opportunity to reach its potential.

For good ideas and best practices to spread through an organization, sometimes it is necessary for you to choose to lead without authority, to “lead sideways”.

This means that for an organization to succeed, leadership is always needed. Someone must lead if all of us are to move forward together. In other words, someone must step up.  Often, however, no one is formally in the position to take charge.

It is exactly at these times when truly effective leaders – as well as leaders who are able to drive deep change – rise to the occasion. Sometimes you are the only one who is in a position to step up to lead.

Sideways leadership of this type is especially difficult.

It requires the ability to influence the choices and actions of others, and do this without having any control. These are the moments that truly test leaders, that separate those who make a difference and are remembered, from those who simply do their jobs and then just disappear.

Be ready. Step up. Choose to lead.

Author: Jim Hazy

Founder and CEO, Leadership Science, LLC