Leadership and followership in the global matrix organization

SuperheroLeadership and followership styles coexist in a complex dance with each affecting the other. If we adopt a coercive style of leadership for example, then followers can either become passive or resistant.

When organizations introduce matrix management, experienced leaders are often concerned with two challenges – how do I influence without authority and how can I be accountable for things that I don’t control.

These concerns usually illustrate either an underlying desire for authority and control or a lack of confidence in their ability to manage without these props.

So what is the followership response to a leader who manages through authority and control?

  • If a leader uses positional and hierarchical authority to insist on a course of action irrespective of the willingness or interest levels of the follower then they are likely to provoke a response either of unwilling compliance or of active resistance. We asked participants in our training whether they preferred working for a solid line (direct reporting) boss or a dotted line boss. Most of them preferred a dotted line boss because they felt that someone without traditional authority had to work a bit harder to engage and influence them.
  • If a leader uses control to get things done than it’s easy to spark a negative control spiral. Individuals feel disempowered and often respond by escalating more issues for resolution. When the leader sees higher levels of escalation, they begin to doubt the capability of their people and institute even tighter controls. It’s a vicious spiral that can end with good people leaving and leaders becoming micromanagers.

So even when we have access to these “hard” sources of power, such as control and authority, we should be extremely careful where we use them because of the negative impact on the followership style of our people.

If you define your leadership according to the followership response you want to elicit it gives you some interesting conclusions. In a matrix organization, for example, we need people to take ownership for their own goal and role clarity and have the confidence to reach across the organization to get things done. In order to give them the space to operate this way, leaders shouldn’t take responsibility for clarifying everything in advance and shouldn’t expect escalation before issues are taken outside their area of responsibility.

As a joke on training courses I sometimes say that we need more lazy managers, because lazy managers are great at delegation. The flipside of this is the hard-working, keen to help, technically skilled leader who can’t help solving problems for themselves and becomes an accidental micromanager.

So instead of writing lists of leadership criteria that make our leaders sound like founders of major world religions or management gurus, instead let’s think about the leadership style we want to create and then consider how we need to behave to enable it.

If you would like to find out how to develop a leadership and followership style that makes the matrix work please contact us.

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About the author:

Kevan Hall Kevan Hall is a CEO, author, speaker and trainer in matrix management, virtual teams and global working. He is the author of "Speed Lead - faster, simpler ways to manage people, projects and teams in complex companies, "Making the Matrix work - how matrix managers engage people and cut through complexity", and the "Life in a Matrix" podcasts, videos, cartoons and blog. He is CEO and founder of Global Integration. Company profile: .

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