Leadership at all Levels. If Everyone Leads, Who Follows?

June 18, 2015
June 18, 2015 Amy Burns

I was having a conversation this week with a business leader when he asked a simple question: “If everyone leads, who’s left to follow?”

It’s a fair question because the cornerstone of the way we work at Innate Leaders is to develop what we call Leadership at all Levels, or the willingness and ability for everyone in an organization to lead regardless of the role they hold.

Fair though the question is, its formulation surprised me. After all, it’s based on the idea of an entrenched hierarchy, a company view that looks to the senior team to develop strategy, as well as systems and processes to make that strategy happen. It relegates frontline staff to getting objectives, KPIs and perhaps incentives to make that strategy real.

To me, that’s a company model that’s increasingly out of date.

Good Leaders Make Good Followers

That’s not a revolutionary perspective. As Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last puts it: “When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.”

And, to take Sinek’s idea a little further, when people want to contribute, they want to take ownership of what they’re doing. Or to put it another way: they want to lead.

That doesn’t mean chaos with everyone fighting to get their ideas heard and implemented. Because after all, a good leader is a good follower. Why? Because good leaders enable other leaders and they do so without ego, just a desire to get the job done.

Leadership at all Levels: Not for Everyone?

There’re two reasons why leadership at all levels isn’t a living philosophy in the majority of organizations. One is because some organizations don’t want people taking ownership. Maybe it’s down to a lack of trust in employees, maybe it’s a lack of belief in them.

Here’s an example of both: I rented a car a few weeks back from a rental company in the UK. There was a problem with the car and I had to take it Manchester airport for replacement. The customer service rep I was speaking with told me he felt I should get a consideration for the inconvenience. But he wasn’t able to do anything about it. He was a good guy who did the best he could. Only thing is his company didn’t believe in giving him authority or responsibility. They didn’t want him to lead.

The other reason is simpler: because some organizations just don’t know how to make leadership at all levels a meaningful, living philosophy. Besides, doesn’t it take lots of time, money and effort, and who has resources for that?

Invested Staff = Responsive Organizations

It’s a short sighted approach because an organization with frontline staff, middle managers and senior managers who lead is a responsive, dynamic organization.

Responsive because as small problems become apparent to staff they can address those issues immediately. And if that seems unlikely then you’ve forgotten one of the key pillar’s of Toyota’s Production System set up to ensure quality control. There, the Jidoka principle empowers workers to push a line-stop button if they notice quality problems or equipment malfunctions.

What an organization gets is an invested staff working with its leadership team to realise the objectives of the organization. A place where staff can identify areas for expansion and improvement.

Making Leadership at all Levels Real

Leadership at all levels isn’t just a good idea for us, it’s why we started Innate Leaders in the first place. So here’s a few tips we’ve gleaned over the years in making it a reality:

  • give people real responsibility and don’t be afraid to hold them accountable
  • get people involved in the way your organization implements its objectives and strategies
  • create forums where people can voice their concerns and ideas as well as take initiative
  • avoid creating a restrictive workplace where processes hamper your staff’s ability to act in the best interests of your organization
  • this will take time, don’t be put off by that: you’ll get back much more than you put in over time
  • take the easy wins: ask your staff to identify areas of your organization they’d like to improve and give them the space to do it

 

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What to dive deeper?

Check out The Six Attributes of a Leadership Mindset by Joe Britto

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