A Corporate ‘Lattice,’ not Ladder

We found this new article on Leadership Styles informative and extremely insightful, enjoy!

Barry Salzberg, CEO of Deloitte, has spent his entire 34-year career in one place, climbing the corporate ladder. From his first unsupportive manager at the New York-based professional services firm to the mentors who helped pull him up through the ranks, Salzberg learned to lead and be led, eventually becoming CEO of Deloitte LLP in the United States in 2007. He has a message for the next generation of leaders: The old leadership hierarchy no longer works.

“Gone is the day of the old command-and-control environment, the climb-the-ladder model in which the employee kept quiet and didn’t say too much, certainly not much beyond what was asked and tasked,” Salzberg told his audience at a recent Wharton Leadership Lecture. “Gone, too, is the densely layered organizational hierarchy [and] dinosaur-like structures that are too slow and lumbering for today’s environment.”

To thrive in an ever-changing world, companies must actively commit to cultivating younger leaders throughout the organization, and encouraging older leaders to pass on what they know. “Leadership now needs to be the norm, not the exception,” he noted. “No longer is leadership about a few exceptional leaders at the top of the organization. Rather, the future is about exceptional teams and the leaders within those teams who can out-maneuver, out-manage and out-innovate their competition.”

Up the ‘lattice’

That is why leadership needs to be flat, Salzberg noted. In a global world, leaders are required at all levels of the organization, not just at the top. In fact, Deloitte has “kicked away the ladder,” he said. “In my organization, we talk now about the lattice, not the ladder.” With a lattice structure, people can move not just up and down but also sideways. If employees need to ease up on the intensity of work to take care of a child or an aging parent, the lattice structure allows them to do that without destroying their career. “The corporate lattice metaphor signals a shift in mindset. It’s better reflective of today’s employees, who want variety and flexibility, and reject a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Another leadership relic, according to Salzberg: the idea of a “ruling elite in the clouds of some bureaucratic Mount Olympus.” In the past, it would have been unthinkable for the average employee to have direct contact with the CEO, he pointed out. Today, CEOs regularly host employee town halls, in which people are encouraged to ask and say anything. “Our people have to see that if they disagree [with their boss], nothing will happen, that there are no [negative] consequences to promotion or compensation.”

No ostriches, no elephants

Leaders today must also be transparent, especially in our socially networked world, said Salzberg. “In today’s social media environment, it’s fascinating to see how in 10 seconds what you say is spread throughout the organization. There are few hiding places.”

The experience helped him develop what he calls his “no ostriches, no elephants” principle. “No burying your head in the sand if there’s a problem, and no ignoring the elephant in the room,” he said. “Much better to name and tame an issue, no matter how difficult it is, than to ignore it or pretend it isn’t there. Making sure the truth is told and discussed with all is the foundation of leadership. Without that, you can’t build trust.”

To read the entire article, see Knowledge@Wharton website.

Question: Has the current social media business environment lifted teamwork to a newer dynamic area of stability, or can total transparency harm team organizational effectiveness? Respond! 🙂

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