What Is Lateral Leadership? Guide To Influence And Collaboration

In organizations, we have come across natural hierarchies. Communication is top-down, and the leaders in a particular position get the work done by the team members. In companies, the hierarchy is seen in the form of a pyramid. 

The best thing about this is the system remains operational. But it might affect productivity negatively. 

The concept of lateral leadership has started gaining popularity because new and agile organizations exercise this form of leadership. Here, more than hierarchy, importance is given to expertise. 

There is good work distribution and organization within the company. Agile organizations may not have just one leader. But there might be many who have expertise in a particular subject, and hence they will be able to help make the project successful. 

What Is Lateral Leadership?

Lateral leadership means leadership without authority. More than top-down authority, the leadership here will be based on a peer-to-peer approach. 

  • It means the leaders who head the project would exercise horizontal leadership and influence their coworkers. There will be good collaboration and motivation to make the project successful.
  • The bigger challenge here is that the employees, or the team members, must identify the leaders inside them and work with passion. 
  • The members are accountable and responsible for the work they do. They use their expertise and creativity to do things in better ways.
  • A leader would have power; he would instruct the subordinates. He would also tell them how and what should be done. But this is the case of classic leadership.
  • If a person wants to lead laterally, he needs to consider the best leadership approach that will work at the lateral or horizontal level. In lateral leadership, dynamism and team collaboration become automatic and effortless. 
  • The team members know how they need to work. They also learn while they work and may make mistakes. They will learn from these mistakes so that in the future, they do not repeat them.
  • Agile organizations want to grow, so they develop the best avenues. Implementing the right leadership style will also be necessary when they consider lateral leadership as one of the best approaches.
  • The leaders must build a good network, work on autonomous communication and create possibilities where the leaders’ and the members’ vision and objectives are the same.

Agile with Lateral Leadership: Key Team Considerations

Times have changed, and people collaborate with different teams and departments. Hierarchy is not the only thing one needs to get ahead with. 

Agile work structures like to work with a lateral leadership approach. Those who work for such organizations or departments must bear a few things in mind.

  • Understand that lateral leadership is quite crucial in the current times.
  • Knowing the key differences between lateral leadership and the disciplinary approach is also important.
  • The teams must understand that lateral leadership can work even without a disciplinary approach.
  • It is crucial to use several tools to optimize the approach.
  • There might be conflicts, but one should be ready to resolve them.
  • The leaders must define their roles, powers, and their goals. They can also complete the work with proper delegation and collaboration when they can do that.
  • The leaders must set clear terms for the team members, and there will be transparency about what needs to be done.

How To Fetch The Best Out Of The Lateral Leadership Concept?

It is tough to consider only the disciplinary leadership approach or only the lateral leadership[ approach.

Rather, modern leaders must create a balance with which there will be a sound work environment and a motivating work culture. 

Here’s how leaders can fetch the best out of the lateral leadership concept.

Lateral leadership gives more importance to the people-first approach.

It is vital to note that people want to earn respect and recognition for their work. When the leaders build good connections and networks and motivate the team members, there will be better chances of performance and good productivity. 

The leaders who preach a lateral approach understand that the team members might need support in various instances.

 By giving better confidence and motivation to coworkers and team members, the leaders would implement some principles of the lateral leadership style.

Lateral leadership gives good importance to inclusion.

Besides equity and diversity, lateral leadership also gives more importance to inclusion. When a person gets important and feels that he is given a valuable role in the project execution, he feels included. 

Thus, lateral leadership allows autonomous communication, appreciation, encouragement, and inclusion. When the team members or coworkers lack certain skills, the leaders arrange for relevant mentorship programs. 

There is space for everyone, as the skills are valued here. Everyone in the picture gives their best and performs perfectly as they want to feel valued.

Lateral leadership supports the employees even outside work.

Post-Pandemic, lateral leadership became one of the vital aspects of the organization. The leaders understood that, for an employee, there are many things beyond work. 

So, there are even areas out of the work where the employees or team members may need assistance. 

Lateral leadership principles open the way for employee assistance programs, health programs, and development programs. It is based on the concept that if the employees are strong from within and good enough outside work, they will perform excellently.

Lateral leadership skills

Lateral leadership skills refer to the ability to influence and collaborate with others across different departments, teams, or levels within an organization, even without direct authority or hierarchical power.

It involves working effectively and building relationships with colleagues who are not under your direct supervision.

Lateral leaders are often found in matrix organizations or cross-functional teams where they need to navigate complex networks of relationships to achieve common goals.

Here are some key lateral leadership skills:


Effective lateral leaders are skilled communicators who can articulate their ideas clearly, listen actively, and adapt their communication style to different individuals and situations.

They understand the importance of open and transparent communication in building trust and fostering collaboration.


Building strong relationships with colleagues across different teams or departments is crucial for lateral leaders.

They invest time and effort in understanding others’ perspectives, seeking common ground, and finding ways to collaborate and leverage each other’s strengths.

Influencing And Persuasion

Lateral leaders often need to influence and persuade others without formal authority. They use their knowledge, expertise, and interpersonal skills to gain support for their ideas, build consensus, and drive change.

They understand the power of persuasion and are adept at presenting compelling arguments.

Problem-Solving And Decision-Making

Lateral leaders are skilled problem solvers who can analyze complex situations, think critically, and propose innovative solutions.

They are comfortable making decisions even in ambiguous or uncertain circumstances, considering multiple viewpoints and balancing the needs of different stakeholders.

Flexibility And Adaptability

Lateral leaders operate in dynamic environments where priorities can change rapidly.

They are adaptable and flexible, able to navigate shifting circumstances and adjust their approach accordingly.

They embrace new ideas, welcome feedback, and are open to learning from others.

Collaboration And Teamwork

Lateral leaders excel in collaboration and teamwork. They actively seek opportunities to work with others, promote a sense of collective ownership, and foster a collaborative culture.

They value diversity of thought and leverage the strengths of individuals to achieve shared objectives.

Emotional Intelligence

Lateral leaders possess high emotional intelligence, understanding their own emotions and those of others. They can empathize with colleagues, manage conflicts constructively, and build positive working relationships. They inspire trust and create a supportive and inclusive work environment.

Developing these lateral leadership skills can enhance your ability to work effectively across teams, departments, and hierarchies, ultimately driving success in complex organizational settings.

Pros And Cons Of Lateral Leadership

Since lateral leadership is much talked about, one should understand the pros and cons of the same.

Pros of lateral leadership.

  • Minorities and women feel they have a good opportunity to grow when the culture nurtures lateral leadership.
  • The employees and the team members understand their goals clearly and try to achieve them because they feel valued.
  • Employees feel empathy for each other, and there is a culture where everyone looks upon the success of the other.
  • Those who are not leaders also perform their best and execute the projects excellently.
  • There is a free flow of ideas and communication.
  • Individuals are responsible for what they need to do and work towards building relations with the other team members to create sync with the common goals.
  • All the departments and teams want to build credibility so they perform at their best.
  • The decisions might be fast because of the lack of bureaucracy.
  • The employees are allowed to make errors, and then they learn from them and never repeat the same mistakes. There is more flexibility and the environment to develop.
  • The employees show good commitment to their tasks and goals.

Cons of lateral leadership

  • The employees may not know whom to report.
  • When there is a crisis, the employees get confused about who they should go to.
  • The older employees might not accept lateral roles and may want to exercise their power using hierarchies.
  • The company will suffer if this concept doesn’t suit the company culture.

How To Bring About A Positive Change In The Organization With The Prompt Leadership Approach?

The organization is good enough in many ways, but there might be a need to bring in some changes time and again. 

The current trends belong to lateral leadership styles and concepts. It is impossible to completely change the system or the hierarchy of the organizational structure. 

What’s important is to adopt some of the best principles of lateral leadership and intricate the same in the system. It won’t be a big systemic change. But, it could bring in a major change in productivity.

What’s more important is that the HR department should be aware of the latest trends and work in such a way that the organization can easily accept lateral leadership as a culture.

The organiztion doesn’t run with just one concept. If you say that you only want lateral culture or hierarchical culture, then that will not be possible. 

Both lateral leadership and hierarchy leadership have their pros and cons. It is crucial to have a mix of both to bring about a positive change in the organization. 

Lateral Leadership Examples

Lateral leadership refers to the ability to influence and lead others without formal authority or hierarchical power.

It involves collaborating, building relationships, and inspiring colleagues across different teams or departments.

Here are a few examples of lateral leadership:

Facilitating Cross-Functional Collaboration

A lateral leader might bring together individuals from different departments to work on a project or solve a problem.

Sharing Knowledge And Expertise

Lateral leaders often possess specialized knowledge or skills that can benefit others.

They proactively share their expertise, mentor colleagues, or offer guidance to help them develop their capabilities.

Acting As A Role Model

Lateral leaders lead by example and demonstrate a strong work ethic, integrity, and dedication.

Their actions inspire others to follow suit and adopt similar behaviors and attitudes.

Influencing Through Persuasion

Without formal authority, lateral leaders rely on their ability to persuade and influence others.

They use effective communication skills, logical reasoning, and compelling arguments to gain buy-in and support for their ideas and initiatives.

Providing Constructive Feedback

Lateral leaders offer constructive feedback to their peers, superiors, and subordinates.

They provide insights, suggestions, and guidance to help individuals and teams improve their performance and achieve their goals.

Building Relationships And Networks

Lateral leaders invest time and effort in building strong relationships with colleagues across different levels and departments.

They nurture connections, establish trust, and leverage these networks to collaborate and achieve common objectives.

Resolving Conflicts

Lateral leaders play a crucial role in resolving conflicts that may arise between team members or departments.

They mediate disputes, facilitate discussions, and help find mutually beneficial solutions that promote harmony and productivity.

Empowering others

Lateral leaders empower their colleagues by recognizing and encouraging their strengths.

They delegate responsibilities, provide autonomy, and create an environment where individuals feel empowered to take ownership and make decisions.

Key Takeaways

  • Lateral leadership is gaining popularity in organizations that prioritize expertise and collaboration over strict hierarchical structures.
  • Lateral leadership emphasizes a peer-to-peer approach, where leaders influence their coworkers and promote collaboration and motivation.
  • Employees must identify and embrace their leadership abilities to work effectively in lateral leadership settings.
  • Lateral leadership requires a different leadership approach, focusing on dynamism, team collaboration, and learning from mistakes.
  • Successful implementation of lateral leadership involves defining roles, promoting autonomous communication, and aligning the visions and objectives of leaders and team members.

FAQs – Lateral leadership

How does lateral leadership differ from traditional hierarchical leadership?

Lateral leadership focuses on influencing others without formal authority, whereas traditional hierarchical leadership relies on formal power and control within a specific position or level in the organization’s hierarchy.

How can lateral leadership be applied in a remote work environment?

In a remote work environment, lateral leadership can be applied by actively engaging in virtual collaboration, leveraging technology for effective communication, promoting knowledge sharing, and fostering a sense of community among team members.

Can lateral leadership coexist with traditional hierarchical leadership?

Yes, lateral leadership can coexist with traditional hierarchical leadership. In fact, they can complement each other by combining the benefits of both formal authority and influence based on expertise and relationships.

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