Good leadership structures are hierarchical. But good leadership is not. It’s territorial.

The author Robert McKee says a “hack” is someone who doesn’t work from the heart, but instead, according to what the market is looking for. He’s referring to opportunistic writers who pander to their audience, thereby removing the very soul from their work in exchange for a few more dollars or a few more eyeballs. Hacks are hierarchical. And leadership works the same way.

You can spot a hack through his hierarchical approach to leadership. He thinks that because the org chart says he is above everyone else, he must actually be superior to those he leads. But at the same time, the hack is afraid. Afraid to be authentic. Afraid to be an authority. Afraid to take a stand. The hack hides his fear by asking his “inferiors” what they would like. He believes that by giving them optionality, it will earn him love and respect. But all it really does is erode his influence. Like a politician, he shrouds his arrogance in smoke and mirrors. He cloaks his thirst for popularity with his hunger for approval.

The true leader takes a territorial approach to leadership. He stands for principle, not popularity. He plants his flag firmly in the ground. He keeps the saltshaker exactly where it needs to be on the table. The true leader provides structure for the team and embraces their resistance. Within that structure, he provides freedom to operate, an ear to listen for feedback, and a patient guidance for those who lose their way. He understands that there must be a hierarchical structure on paper—people need to know who is in charge. But that’s as far as it goes. The true leader sets boundaries and determines the territory, but is not in any way superior to the team.

It’s critical to understand the difference between leadership and leadership structures, between territorial and hierarchical approaches. Hierarchical leadership can only end in one of two ways: either the leader (the hack) is devalued, or the followers are diminished. By definition, one side always has the upper hand on the other. Conversely, territorial leadership is singularly focused. The leader defines the frontiers, but operates on the same plane as everyone else. He is unafraid of authenticity and criticism. He works not for popularity, but for principle.

Lead territorially. Leave the hierarchy for the org chart.

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