The Importance of Horizontal Leadership

Losh_horizontal leadership April 11, 2022 By: John Losh

As associations continue to push toward their short- and long-term goals, they must look to leaders across the organization, not just in the C-suite, to help them achieve success.

Where does leadership begin? Most of the articles and books I’ve seen on leadership focus the tricks of the trade on managers and those serving in the C-suite. While this audience may be the most interested in how to effectively lead groups of people, it is in an association’s best interest to invest in leadership development for all staff.

In my view, training young professionals and new staff from day one in the industry is equally as important as its managers since every level of staff contributes to the mission of the organization. When an association invests in leadership development for employee, they’ll have a solid foundation of leadership skills as they grow with the organization.

Leadership from the bottom-up is just as important as it is from the top-down.
Around the world, associations are developing strategic plans to decide what their goals are and how they aim to get there. The only way associations can reach new heights and serve our members is through the strength of its teams. That means leadership can’t simply come from those in the C-suite, but horizontally across our associations.

As associations continue to push forward, it’s important for all of us to step up. Organizations will thrive or lose relevance based on the combined leadership efforts from the C-suite and staff of all levels across the association.

Since most associations don’t have the level of funding or number of staff they’d prefer to achieve their goals, leadership from the bottom-up is just as important as it is from the top-down.

An organization’s culture isn’t defined by the orders coming from the top of the org chart, but how every member of the association strives to work together. Leadership can no longer be defined by a role in the C-suite or years in the industry, but by the actions of everyone in an association to shift the culture toward a more positive and collaborative environment.

In his book It Worked for Me, the late General Collin Powell discussed his time as a four-star general, his time in the state department, and his 13 rules of leadership. As you read his rules, you begin to see they apply to every stage of a career.

  1. It ain’t as bad as you think! It will look better in the morning. 
  2. Get mad then get over it.
  3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
  4. It can be done.
  5. Be careful what you choose. You may get it. 
  6. Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision. 
  7. You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours. 
  8. Check small things.
  9. Share credit.
  10. Remain calm. Be kind.
  11. Have a vision. Be demanding. 
  12. Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
  13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

General Powell’s 13th rule is the most applicable to my own style as an association professional and leader. Even though I’m a young professional who isn’t a manager, my outlook and efforts help showcase me as a leader within my association. A positive and optimistic outlook not only helps me assess opportunities in new ways but can also help colleagues focused on the same goals. As young professionals look at developing their career path, remember that leadership skills are necessary in every role and consider how to share your knowledge and build the skills you need to have success.

John Losh

John Losh is associate membership director at the National Association of Counties in Washington, DC, and a member of ASAE’s Young Professionals Advisory Committee.