Lateral leadership means leading without disciplinary power. The species Lateral Leader more and more claims its place amongst the roles in modern organisations and with it the challenges and chances the lateral leadership style brings along.

To be a successful lateral leader a lot of skills and competencies are needed, far beyond classical leadership tools, in order to smooth potential resistances, to win the employees’ favour and to master projects both with complex teams and tasks. Therefore, those who have success with this challenge really earn the term super-species. In the following you find a description of the up-and-coming lateral leaders.



Characteristics of the lateral leader

Lateral leaders for sure bear a likeness to classical leaders. You know that you have a lateral leader in front of you when the following characteristics are met:

  • Leader’s function and tasks without having hierarchical power
  • Often high implementation responsibility
  • Acts under high execution responsibility
  • Is confronted with complex teams and working groups (cutting across sections and companies, often international, „virtual teams“)
  • Confronted with different intentions and aims in their teams and working groups



Sub-species & population

Lateral Leader is the general term for four different sub-species or roles. Depending on the job description and area of responsibility there are

  • Team member/Expert leader
  • Process leader
  • Project manager/Program leader
  • Negotiator at a table


The population of the lateral leader already is relatively high and yet increasing. This states, for example, a survey among HR-Experts: 62,8% of the respondents specify that the lateral role of the expert leader is represented in their organisation since 3-5 years. Another 89 % claim that the relevance of lateral leaders in organisations will rise or even rise significantly in the next 5-10 years .


Living environment

The living environment of the lateral leader is the modern organisation with flat management structures, matrix organisations and an increasing project character of all tasks.
International cooperation and leading of “virtual teams” make the local boundaries of the living environment totally void. At the same time they tighten the requirements of personal skills and competencies for those who have to lead without formal power.




Leading without being in charge means a big challenge for the individual. Constant personal development and working on the own behaviour and skills are the condition for being a successful lateral leader. Here is an extract of the behaviour patterns and skills:

  • High self-leading competence
  • Strategic skills
  • Target- and solution-oriented behaviour
  • Problem solving competence
  • Understanding of how organisations work
  • Good knowledge of the human nature and evaluation of individual skills and weaknesses
  • Communicative skills
  • Ability to handle conflicts
  • Ability to win employees’ favour and gain commitment
  • High social competence




Threats & natural enemies

The natural enemies of a lateral leader lurk everywhere: in a project meeting, behind the next office door, in a skype call or feedback talk and so on. They appear in the shape of a lack of commitment from the team members, shortage of resources, direct leaders working against the lateral leader’s goals, promises from employees which aren’t kept and destructive power games.
But not only in their direct environment lateral leader risks danger. It’s also within themselves. Professional competence in their special field assumed there are lots of potential problems such as too many priorities, a lack of assertiveness, missing empathy and low communication skills, deficient self-reflexion, fear of change, small-mindedness or simply a lack of team-mindedness.


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