This is part three of a series of discussions with Marilyn Jacobson, Ph.D, author of: Turning the Pyramid Upside Down: A New Leadership Model. To see the previous two posts, you can check out Turning the Hierarchy Upside Down and A Shift in Leadership Thinking.
For this third and final part of the series, Dr. Jacobson and I explore what it takes to have creative new ideas, creative products and people who are empowered to speak across functional lines.
JVM: Is there a theme that emerges as it relates to what was the turning point for these executives, mentally and emotionally, to release themselves of concern of maintaining control and turning the pyramid upside down?
MJ: The theme is that people are the only sustainable competitive advantage. Also, leadership is not one person was getting it all right, but collectively leveraging everyone’s ideas is what makes for amazing results.
Savvy executives, the ones ready to upend the pyramid, realize the complexities that they are facing are beyond what they have been trained for. They have to know who in the organization they can develop and how that person would need development, whom they need to bring in.
JVM: What are some key things executives have learned in this transformation process?
MJ: In my book, Norman Axelrod who was the chairman of Linens and Things is featured in a chapter titled, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. This was Norman’s his mantra for a while because he realized initially if something went wrong, he would simply go tell people how to do it right. But if he went to them and said okay, if you had this to do over again, what would you do differently? And when he started to listen, he learned a lot and he learned that they had important things to say.
I also think that executives are tuning into the realities of globalization and technology. They are developing a different attitude about intercultural relationships and how that factors into their organizations. They realize that young people are a huge asset in this way. For example, at Loyola University in Chicago, there is an associate dean whom I interview in the book. At this very moment, he’s in Chile with a group of students, who will take their cultural learning back with them to school, and then eventually into the workplace.
JVM: Where do leaders who genuinely want to move in this direction trip up?
MJ: Great question! I’ve seen organizations progress nicely [in their endeavor to flip the pyramid]. They are really moving along; it’s happening and there’s excitement. And then there is some sort of downturn – economically, or shifts in the organization. When this happens, they go back to the old way very quickly.
And then there is another passage that needs to get taken after that. But it is a regression to the tried and true that is the constant pitfall, I think. So I think once executives have made the commitment and have rearranged the offices and have gotten the dialog going, they are going to be less likely to drop it and go back.
JVM: So would your counsel to a leader who is going through this remain steadfast?
MJ: Well, yes in the sense that once you see that this is the way to go, stay steadfast. Senior leaders need to believe, “Yes, this is going to work.” Give it some time because long-term it is going to benefit. The funny thing about this is it feels good while you are doing it and you see the benefit, and so it’s not just…you do not feel like it’s all on you to do something. We are going to stick together and make this thing work.
Editor’s note: A huge note of gratitude goes out to Dr. Jacobson for sitting down with me to share her extensive experience in guiding executives and organizations to realize their fullest potential.
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