A Shift in Leadership Thinking

by Jennifer Miller on April 18, 2013

in Leadership

In part one of this series, Turning the Hierarchy Upside Down author Marilyn Jacobson and I discussed the central premise of her book, Turning the Pyramid Upside Down: A New Leadership Model.  Dr. Jacobson posits that in the global, hyper-connected business environment executives must redistribute power to get the maximum number of minds focusing on solving the organization’s challenges. This “turning the pyramid upside down” is what Dr. Jacobson says is the key to transforming organizations.

The second part of this series explores the new mindset that leaders at the top of the organization must form to successfully complete an organizational transformation. Many times leaders say they want to involve their employees more fully, but in reality have a hard time mentally shifting gears to do so.

 JVM: What are some of the difficulties leaders face once they decide to turn the pyramid upside-down?

MJ:  Initially, senior leadership is nervous. The want to engage employees, but for many this is new territory. Here’s an example of a challenge: I worked with several organizations where they [senior leaders] kept saying they wanted [their employees to be] “thought leaders”, but these executives weren’t really providing employees with enough information to think about. Executives were afraid the competition may hear about it they shared too much strategic information with their employees. At the same time, leadership did not really trust that people inside the organization had the skills and the knowledge to pull it off.  Yet, strong people did emerge when there was an emergency and proved that they did have the right stuff and the right ideas. So, yes, the flatter the organization, it seems the more work gets done, the more newness takes place, the more creativity, and people trust that you do have thoughts and your thoughts are important.

J:  Very interesting. I’m very struck by that. When top executives say, well we want thought leaders; but then they weren’t giving them the right tools and information to think about.

MJ:  I know!  I would hear it so frequently it almost became comedic. And I would say [to executives], I know some of the things that you have in the works, but you are not telling your people that work for you what it is you are thinking about doing. For example, I watched a private equity firm buy an organization that was completely different from anything they had [in their portfolio] before and they expected people to just come up to the top speed immediately in a whole different milieu. So how could employees possibly be thought leaders?  Employees were so behind the eight ball in terms of even knowing that this was in the works.

JVM: What other mindsets did executives have to shift?

MJ: It is generally moving from a way of thinking that is “This is mine to do alone,” or “In order to be a good leader, I need to do _____”. It’s the shift from being an “I” to a “We”, always realizing that “I’m not doing this by myself, I’m doing this in concert with others.”

Another key point: when we talk about empowering, it’s been an authentic empowering not just, “Okay I’m going to let you make these decisions now” or “I’m going to let you throw in your ideas now.” True empowerment is, “This is yours, this is yours to do, we know you can do it. We will support you in any way possible, but this is your area.”

Up next in the series: Organizational Transformation – Key Learning from Executives – where Marilyn and I talk about the key learning that executives encounter when moving through an organizational transformation.

Disclosure: some of the links in this post may be affiliate links, meaning if you click the link and make a purchase, I will receive a commission.

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