Lateral leadership is more than a mere concept of how to lead teams and colleagues without hierarchical power. It is a leadership style at eye level, matches the leadership understanding of millennials and is crucial for human resource. An HR developer explains.

Sabine Trost_VetMed_Leading without hierarchical power

Guest Article

This article is written by MMag. Sabine Trost. She is living in Vienna and working as an HR developer for the Veterinary Medicine University of Vienna. After visiting the seminar “Lateral leadership at eye level” we asked her to tell us about her point of view and the meaning of leading without hierarchical power.

Picture: © Michael Bernkopf/Vetmeduni Vienna

„Everyone leads in a lateral way, the whole time.”


At least, this is corresponding with the working reality. Even if you are a line manager, lateral leadership can be in demand when it comes to projects cutting across professions or departments. In human resource, often installed as a classical staff unit, we consistently develop and design measures and instruments for the whole organisation. However, the implementation is up to employees I do not have hierarchical power over.

Motivation by lateral leadership


In my point of view, this is the reason why lateral leadership also makes sense for line managers. Additionally it meets my own leadership- and self-understanding. When leading without hierarchical power, decisions aren’t just pushed by hierarchy but the interests of all stakeholders are involved. The focus is on reaching goals together or even developing them together in advance. I experience that this way the motivation and commitment of employees are as much rising as their satisfaction.

Millennials - Leading without hierarchical power

Lateral leadership for generation Y & Z


For me personally, working in the field of human resource, the question about the importance of lateral leadership in today’s organisations is very fascinating. Even if lateral leadership isn’t always named or known as such, it is key for successful leadership and cooperation. I assume that the significance of lateral instruments in leadership will increase in coming years. Because after all it offers a way to grow employees’ motivation, commitment and satisfaction, especially when it comes to millennials – which means generation Y and Z – who are running the job market right now. They bring along a changed understanding of hierarchy. For them, respect and authority aren’t made by hierarchical power only. Decisions, even if made by line managers, get more and more challenged and personal interests of employees come to the fore.


Leaders with lateral competence will have better chances to respond to the needs of millennials and, first and foremost, to achieve good results together with them.

When generations meet each other


For me, a key aspect of the principle of leading without hierarchical power is to stop mere delegation and begin to ask more questions. No doubt that classical leadership decisions giving a necessary frame will be still important. Nevertheless, there should be also space for asking about interests and motivation factors to let them positively influence a leadership style.

Consciously or not, the change within organisations already began. Millennials contribute different values, new hierarchy models and a new understanding of work and all that is influencing an organisation. Simultaneously, when entering an organisation the millennials encounter well-established structures and expectations. The combination of these two tendencies creates a reciprocal and very fascinating process of learning and change.

Quick-tip from Sabine Trost


After reading this article, what can readers do immediately to improve their lateral leadership business?


My favourite tip from the last training I did is the aim’s grid. Even if it is not a specifically lateral tool it is perfect to be used for lateral projects. In a few minutes it helps you to sketch an important project or plan using the four dimensions “end result”, “purpose/benefit”, “customer” and “success criteria”. Success potentials get visible as well as open points or discrepancies you should focus on. Therewith you can optimize projects very quickly and easily and – very important for lateral projects – using it is very handy to explain projects to all involved stakeholder or co-workers.

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