In management theory, certain concepts from yesteryear no longer hold true. Like, for example, the idea that people must be driven to perform. Writing here for Inc, Marcel Schwantes, Principal and founder of Leadership From the Core gives his take own the upside nature of empowered leadership.
Over the years, I’ve learned that driving people (as if they were cattle or cars, steering them wherever we want them to go) no longer holds a favorable place in collaborative work cultures.
Driving people to performance is actually the opposite of what a great leader does. To get the best and most from employees on their way to high-performance, two things must happen:
1. Managers must stop leading from the top down.
2. Managers must start leading from the bottom up.
Stop leading from the top down
Top-down bosses are notorious for killing the intrinsic motivation of ambitious, self-starter employees, and turning them into glorified order-takers.
Employees who don’t self-start, make decisions on their own, and get to exercise their entrepreneurial rights, eventually suffocate under micro-management and lose the will to contribute meaningfully. Exit, stage left.
On the flip side, Gallup studies have found that the companies with the highest employee engagement and best financial performance, even in tough economic times, are the ones with the least power and control over their tribes.
Start leading from the bottom up
Bottom-up leaders serve the needs of their employees first by inverting the organisational pyramid. While this will look counterintuitive at first, two of the best features of a bottom-up leader that will result in great trust and loyalty are the ability to share power and delegate authority.
Because when you do both, you actually gain real power by pumping fear out of the room; your team will have your back, unleash discretionary effort, and do amazing work.
Instead of leveraging their positional power for personal gain, self-promotion or demands for special privileges, bottom-up leaders put their people in positions of leadership to stretch their growth, and develop new strengths and roles for them.
In highly effective organizations, there are leaders at every level, not just at the top. The solution is always to push authority down so you’re creating a leader-leader culture, not a leader-follower culture.
In his book Turn the Ship Around, retired U.S. Navy Captain David Marquet documents how he transformed a ship under his command by challenging the U.S. Navy’s traditional, top-down, leader-follower approach and pushing for leadership at every level from the bottom-up.
As a result, his submarine skyrocketed from worst to first in the whole fleet because of his choice to give up control and push authority down the ranks. The crew became fully engaged, contributing their intellectual capacity every day. It was a thing of beauty.
If you choose the bottom-up approach to leadership, the return on this investment is watching a leadership culture rise up — one that will produce great results and profitability.