Who needs a boss?

Feb 26, 2014

Traditional hierarchy

Do you work in an environment where your boss tells you what to do and you simply have to execute? If so, you most probably like working according to function descriptions, clearly stating what you are supposed to do and maybe even how to do it. Indeed, some people find it easy to work in clear and strong hierarchies, regarding obedience as a virtue.

I definitely do not like this kind of organizations. It may be a good model for companies focusing on maximizing output, while minimizing input. I am sure though that most businesses working like this, do not even come close to tapping their full potential. This is especially true in the service industry and in highly innovative environments.

Traditional hierarchies imply additional overhead and less effective communication. They create social and bureaucratic barriers between their employees. Not only between the various levels of people, but even between peers in different groups. This kind of organizations are managed top-down, while hampering bottom-up feedback.

Different approach

I strongly believe in another model that is built on co-creation and collaboration. It is well-directed by a clearly defined vision and is secured by strong values. Sustainability is realized by means of just enough structures and processes.

We have built our own company on a culture of entrepreneurship, care, respect, teamwork and commitment. As these values are recognized and “lived” by our people, they provide stability and act as the company’s conscience. They are the backbone of our corporate identity. People who do not fit in, quickly leave again as they are never fully accepted by their colleagues and do not feel at home.

A clear vision puts all noses in the same direction. Entrepreneurship fosters individuals’ initiatives to make steps in this direction. Commitment, care and team spirit maximize chances for success. Respect is shown both for success and failure. Having the guts to try, implies accepting to fail from time to time.

This combination of values, vision and guts constitutes our company’s culture, our identity. It has allowed us – both as a group and as individuals – to gather momentum and realize success. This is not sufficient to make it sustainable, though. While allowing some chaos, we need some structures and processes in order to keep the framework well-oiled and targeted.

Bosses versus Leaders

I often see “bosses” trying to control individuals and their actions. They think they are the ones who know best what to do. Their people should listen and execute what they are instructed to do. These managers quickly become their own bottlenecks. In order to be able to grow while keeping control, they need to add additional hierarchy levels.

Is it not more efficient and motivating to give your people the right context, to share the targeted objectives and to give them a free hand to define how these can be met? We believe empowerment stimulates ownership, motivation and even passion. Making more use of the people’s intellectual capacity allows them to grow their own capabilities, which increases the company’s strength again.

That is exactly what “leaders” do: pointing out the right direction, communicating clearly about it, setting the drivers accordingly, giving their people freedom to take initiatives and – not to forget – allowing them to make mistakes. Indeed, while many people see failure as the opposite of success, it actually is its complement: allowing failure increases chances for success.

Bosses have a tendency to delegate responsibility. As a consequence their people often react by preparing excuses for potential failure. Leaders on the contrary tend to delegate authority to take the actions required to get to success, while keeping responsibility in case things turn bad. This way their people spend more energy in finding solutions rather than excuses. Moreover, this can be realized in a flat organization, without needing too many line managers.


Let’s not act as bosses, as control freaks who tightly pull the strings!  Let’s all become leaders instead, identifying opportunities to move our company as well as ourselves forward, stimulating dreams and facilitating their realization!


Author: Jan Delaere. You can follow Jan on Twitter (@delaerej) or connect with him on LinkedIn