- Leandro Herrero - https://leandroherrero.com -

The 4 hats of leadership in the modern organization

The trouble with the talking about leadership is that we have made a big basket of it and thrown in anything that looked and smelled like people making other people do something.

Talking about leadership in general, makes for a great discussion but soon you will be stuck unless you start qualifying and going deeper. Talking about leadership as a generic is as good as talking about fatherhood as a concept. Soon you will want to hear more.

In the modern organization that I propose is ‘powered’ by the Viral Change™ Platform/operating system [1], we have at least 4 types of leadership, which I call the 4 hats. This is not a classification of styles or (situational) requirements, but 4 ‘social mobilizing functionalities’.

  1. Hat 1: The hierarchical leadership. The most well-known, that positions the leader in a particular ‘network slot’, read, role. This is the top down system that is documented in those organizational charts/organigrams. This hat is the one you need to wear in order to set guidelines and expectations, inspire, role model and ensure performance and reward. This leadership hat dwells in the formal organization.
  2. Hat 2: Distributed leadership. A relative small number of individuals in the organization are highly connected and have great influence (good or bad). These are sometimes called ‘informal leaders’, lead outside the hierarchical lines. They are leaders in their own right even if they have not been formally recognised as such. In the Viral Change™ Operating System, the key is connectivity/influence, and position in the network. We find the Gladwellian classification [2] of influencers as connectors, mavens or salesmen, intellectually appealing and mostly useless. When this ‘small’ leader community is asked by Hat Ones to get involved, they may receive a label such as Champions or Change Agents. All labels here (the above plus ambassadors, advocates, etc) have pros and cons. When culturally we are not creating a problem (!) we call them activists. I like the word act within.
  3. Hat 3. Backstage Leadership™. The distributed engine of leadership represented by the highly connected influencers (tribe) could go on its own. Hierarchical leadership would be foolish to think that it can ignore this distributed leadership. On the contrary, it needs to be nurtured, supported and, dare I say, treated as a precious gem inside the tent. This is leadership from the back, backstage, or providing and giving the stage to those with non hierarchical influence. In the Edelman Trust Barometer, horizontal, peer-to-peer, non hierarchical influence and trust is twice as much as that of the CEO. In our own research, the top highly connected (distributed leadership) people in the organization ‘reach out’ to twice as much people than the top leadership. (Top Influencers 2, Top Leadership 1 (Hierarchical power in the organization is half of the ‘peer-to-peer’ power [3])
  4. Collective Leadership. This is the collective pull-capability of the organization, the sum of all, the equivalent of the type of horsepower of a car. Strong leadership at the top is not necessarily a condition to have high collective leadership power. Spending considerable amount of time and resources fixing ‘the top leaders’ may be a right thing to do, but may also be a distraction towards creating collective leadership. That the latter follows the former, is a convenient, if weak, assumption.

At least these 4 types need to be recognised and understood and any Leadership Development Programme that focuses on one of them only, or is biased towards the hierarchical leadership, for example, is not a good Leadership Development Programme for this day and age.


Continue the conversation…..


Join me and my team for our final webinar in the ‘A Better Way’ series as we look at collective leadership:


Build and enhance your  collective leadership capabilities

At The Chalfont Project, we prefer the use of the term ‘practicing leadership’ to ‘developing’ it to emphasise the real life essence of leadership. So much has been written that the world is full of recipes and techniques, examples and role models. The rich plethora of available answers obscures the need to have good questions. Reflection and introspection seem like logical ingredients for being a good leader, yet our business and organizational life treats them as luxuries that have no place in our ubiquitous ‘time famine’. Busy-ness has taken over business and leadership has been commoditised to a series of ‘how to’. Yet, there is hardly anything more precious in organizational life than the individual and collective leadership capabilities.

Join us on 17th June at 1730 BST/1830 CET to find out more.



For more insights and discussion on leadership – you can now watch on demand:

The Camino Book Launch webinar – Join me as I discuss leadership as a praxis and themes from my latest leadership book: Camino – Leadership Notes on the Road.  [5]