When one thinks of chain of command, it is usually in the context of the military. You know, the private reports to the corporal and so on. In the corporate world, the usual vertical chain of command has been replaced in many cases by a flatter model that emphasizes the task rather than the reporting relationship. Yet, the vertical model still is in use by many companies and organizations and most likely will never become extinct.
The vertical chain of command can be very effective, most notably in any industry where immediate decisions must be made. When it comes to where to place troops on a battlefield, or what play to run during a game, consensus building will never work. Someone has to make the call…now. The chain of command model has its drawbacks, particularly when it comes to unequal relationships. This means that often subordinates are required to work cross functionally with those who are above them in pay grade, status, and unfortunately, ego. Teams don’t function well when those in charge can pick and choose when to “call rank” during a given project or initiative. Often these subordinates are also more capable and competent than their upper level counterparts because promotion is too often based on seniority and not ability.
This creates an uneven playing field that kills creativity and productivity. The key is to promote those who are most competent and do not create teams with equal responsibility but unequal authority. Does this mean that senior and junior level executives never work together? No, but it does mean that when they do work together, they see themselves as equals in the process. The end goal must be the driver and not the egos, titles, and protected self interests of those with rank.
Leading others is not about directing missives at the minions, but rather coming alongside those in a righteous pursuit. Leaders and followers are equal in value, but carry different roles. Ask yourself, am I the kind of leader who intimidates others by my rank or the type that engages others as valuable members of a winning team?