When it comes to the leadership of our organisations, we have a habit of demanding too much of the few at the top and not enough of everyone else.
The traditional pyramid structure places too much of the power at the top of the organisation.
As a result, this places unrealistic demands on the people in the most senior positions.
To be truly successful we expect our most senior managers to be everything, e.g. confident yet humble, strong in their opinions yet open to be influenced by others. How many leaders do you know like this? Is there really such a person who has the vision of Richard Branson, the persistence of Steve Jobs, the presence of Nelson Mandela and the humility of Ghandi. There are precious few people that possess all these traits.
When we place this unrealistic level of expectation on leaders it often leads to failure.
However, there is an alternative. Organisations don’t need to place so much authority at the top; it can be distributed throughout the organisation.
Hierarchy was the default management setting for the 20th century. This command and control style demanded conformity and predictability, and discouraged creativity. It was the source of frustration, anger, depression, and stress on the job. The job may have got done, but not well.
Today, many organisations are moving away from this process but there is still a long way to go. To successfully challenge this outdated form of thinking takes a huge investment in time and resource. Organisations need to rethink every process, every platform for communication and how every decision is made.
So how do we address this and invert the traditional Leadership Pyramid? The first step is to look at the structure.
Here are some suggestions:
• Break big units into smaller units
• Create more opportunity for people to be leaders
• Be more transparent about the financial position of the organisation – if possible, tie individual performance into that
• Start to delegate the work of the executive team by opening up the conversations about strategy, direction, values etc
Managers can promote distributed leadership on a day to day basis in the following ways:
• Trusting in the abilities of employees
• Demonstrating a genuine desire to share power
• Developing their coaching abilities in order to enhance the decision making skills of team members
• Maintaining consistency in terms of decision-making processes. The more often you take over the reins of a decision, the less likely employees will perceive you as being sincere. When you absolutely have to make decisions without involving staff, explain why it was necessary
• Showing perseverance in the face of frustration. Often poor decisions tend to force managers and executives to revert back to a top-down way of doing things, rather than using it as an opportunity to develop the individual
• Let your team know the “bigger picture” — the goals of the organisation and department, its purpose, and how they fit in to them
• Realistically assess your management style and interpersonal skills. Even your non-verbal behaviour can derail a pyramid inversion. Be aware of subtle messages you may be sending.
• Listen! In the inverted pyramid, the managers listen more than they talk. if employees don’t want to talk to you, search out the causes and fix them
The senior leadership team needs to show courage and trust as it starts to develop the leadership talent across the organisation. Remember the goal is to become less reliant on a few people at the top and make your organisation more agile.
To learn more about how you can meaningfully distribute leadership across your organisation contact Outstand today.
The basis of this article was derived from the video by Gary Hamel in collaboration with McKinsey.