The Mythical Pyramid of Leadership

“Flatten the pyramid!”  While the call to reduce or even eliminate the pyramidal management structure is nothing new, I have noticed it gaining volume of late.  The new generation of employees demands a less bureaucratic reporting structure, states one recent article.  The current speed of business requires a leaner operation, says another.  Often referred to is the company Valve, which has no hierarchical management structure at all.

What strikes me, though, as I look at the details of the demands is that at the core of the issue this isn’t even a matter of management.  It’s about leadership.  A reduction of management is not what people are truly seeking, even though they say it is.  Rather their aim is an expansion of leadership.

Our concepts of leadership and management are too closely interwoven.  Career success is to get as high as possible on the managerial pyramid, and the person that’s ahead in the race is therefore the leader, right?  Really?

Leadership is not about rising above others, it’s about lifting others up. 
Leadership isn’t about getting ahead of others, it’s about moving others forward.

People want to make a difference.  They want the freedom to lead.  But when leadership is falsely woven into the managerial pyramid it denies the opportunity for all but a few.  Leadership needs to be recognized as distinct from management.  Yes, managers should be expected to be leaders.  But so should those not in management.

When leadership is seen for what it truly is something amazing happens.  The leadership pyramid goes away.  Leadership is not a position.  And if there is no position, there is no pyramid.

Each organization needs to determine the management structure best for them, and as long as leadership isn’t tangled into this they’re fine.  In an organization with a culture that allows everyone the opportunity to lead, regardless of title or position, the managerial pyramid is turned from a blockade of bureaucracy to a stepping stone towards greatness.

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No more personal leadership

Up until a recent moment of epiphany, I would often use the phrase “personal leadership” to describe my type of leadership.  The intent was to distinguish it from organizational leadership.  Then one day I realized it was inappropriate for me to use the phrase, for a couple reasons.

First of all, using “personal leadership” and “organizational leadership” is counter to my vision.  When people refer to organizational leadership what they are typically referring to is management.  Key to my vision is universal recognition that leadership is leadership and management is management, and while the two are closely related they are distinct concepts. If leadership happens within an established organization, it’s leadership. If leadership happens outside an organization, it’s leadership. If a leader is a manager, it’s leadership. If the leader is not a manager, it’s leadership. Let’s just call leadership leadership.

Secondly, to say “personal leadership” is redundant.  If it’s not personal, it’s not leadership.  All leadership begins with leading oneself, is built on trust and relationship, and is brought about through influence.  That’s personal.

On the about page for this blog there is still a reference to “personal leadership.”  I will be changing that soon.  What this blog is about, what I am about is – leadership.

“The place to improve the world is first
in one’s own heart and head and hands.”
Robert M. Pirsig

Photo courtesy of AESThetic Photography