Be a Coach—Not a Boss
Nobody likes to be bossed around. Yet a strong boss who is able to direct the actions of others is the type of leader organizations often find desirable as their processes and relationships become more complex. Traditional hierarchy is often seen as the only solution to managing complexity. Lines of communication and command are clear. Roles are clear. Decision-making is firmly in the hands of a boss. Team members follow the boss's lead. In theory, this seems straightforward but it’s actually much more complicated.
Why Top-Down Leadership Doesn't Work in a Matrix
In a complex organization such as a matrix organization, it is impossible—even for an experienced and brilliant leader—to know every process, relation, hip and technical detail. Without this knowledge, the boss can’t always make informed decisions. Her decisions can be disconnected from reality on the ground.
On the other hand, team members are directly connected to reality. They’re in the thick of it every day. When they receive the next order "from above," they sometimes cringe at how far removed it is from what actually needs doing.
Some teams bring their bosses up to speed and closer to reality. Other teams get things done the best they can, leaving their leaders blissfully unaware. Still, others simply stop caring about the outcomes and just do what they're told. In any case, managing a matrix organization as a top-down hierarchy leads to inefficiency at best and dysfunction at worst.
Become a Coach
As organizations grow and become more interconnected, they need to shift from a traditional hierarchical management approach to a team-based, collaborative one. This means leaders need to let go of trying to control every process top-down and become coaches. A coach's role requires new qualities and skills. Here are a few examples...
A Coach Doesn't Know Everything
And she is okay with that. She works with team members who are experts in what they do. Team members do their jobs and go to the coach and other team members with questions or requests for help. They are adults. No need to micromanage them.
A Coach Knows Her Team
She knows her team members' capabilities, personalities, and dynamic. If the team is new, the coach is there to help build it. If the team is well-functioning, she knows exactly what makes it run like a well-oiled machine.
A Coach is Open, Transparent and Honest
Team members and customers trust her. She is not intimidating and team members feel comfortable going to her with questions and challenges.
Empower Matrix Team Success
As in team sports, the coach is instrumental to a matrix team's success. The team does the actual work but the coach guides them. She removes obstacles to high performance and empowers the team to deliver organizational outcomes.
No need to boss anyone around. Become a coach!
Ready to Learn More?
This article is part of a series devoted to successful leadership in matrix organizations. We talk more about leadership in Matrix Management Reinvented: Book 2 - The 7 Shifts Needed to Be a Successful Matrix Leader.
As the Managing Director of the International Matrix Management Institute, Cathy helps organizations and practitioners adopt the skills and methods they need to succeed in today’s complex, dynamic environment. She is a Matrix Management 2.0™ Master Consultant and the author of several books on matrix management, including her most recent publication, Managing Projects in a Matrix. She is a key contributor to the Matrix Management 2.0™ Body of Knowledge, co-developer of the Matrix Management 2.0™ organizational operating system, and a lead developer for the company.