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.

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

This is my Kala Patthar

This is my Everest (T.I.M.E.).  That slogan has provided me inspiration when facing large challenges in my life.  More importantly it serves as a reminder to fully experience the journey.  It is particularly meaningful to me this time of year.  The inspiration comes from my cousin, Lute, who was part of the first American expedition to climb Mount Everest, reaching the summit himself on May 22nd, 1963.  In the talks he gave later he would tell people that everyone has their own Everest.

When it comes to leadership, however, I have a slightly different perspective, and the mountain that comes to mind is Kala Patthar.  It is not the height of Kala Patthar that earns the mountain its distinction.  While the summit is a lofty 18,192’ (5545m) it is overshadowed in the Himilayas where it stands.   What is notable about Kala Patthar is the excellent view it provides of Mount Everest, which stands at 29,029’ (8848m).

The leadership vision I hold for the world is grand in scope and ambition, and is not a vision I expect to ever see come to reality, not in my lifetime.  I cannot even fully imagine what the world would be like if these principles became the norm and not the exception.  And there is so much I need to learn about leadership.  My hope is that in my lifetime I will at the least come to a point where I can fully envision and articulate what the reality would look like.

This is my Kala Patthar.  To fully experience my own leadership journey.  And then to some day stand and look off to the lofty heights and see the possibilities for a world that universally embraces principles such as these:

  • Leadership and management are seen as unique concepts, distinct from each other, to the benefit of both.
  • Leadership is on PAR – each and every person has the Permission, Ability and Responsibility to lead when a situation calls upon them to do so.
  • Managers are not seen as the victors, the ones who achieved their prestigious post as a reward for being the best at what the organization does. They are not seen as leaders simply because they are ahead in the race up the ladder. Managers are managers because they are the best at managing. Leaders are leaders because others have chosen to follow and they have accepted their responsibility to lead.
  • A person’s value to an organization is assessed only in the context of their intrinsic worth.
  • Being and becoming precede doing and achieving.
  • The primary intent of doing and achieving is to become more from it.
  • Doing and achieving produce results never before imagined when based on a foundation of being and becoming.
  • Leadership is primarily a matter of the heart, based on compassion for another as they are, and passion for what we can be.

What is your Everest? What is your Kala Patthar?


Future leaders? Today’s leaders!

In the summer between his Junior and Senior years of high school our youngest son kept talking about how excited he was to be captain of the school’s Ultimate Frisbee team in his Senior year.  I finally said to him one day, “You know, you haven’t officially been named captain yet.  What happens if you aren’t named captain?”  Without any hesitation or concern he replied, “That’s ok.  I can still be a leader.”

He said it knowing full well what that meant.  Leadership is about passion, not position.

That next school year he was named co-captain along with two others and they were all great captains and great leaders on the team.  It was awesome to see the team finish fifth in state that year.  It was even more awesome to see everyone on the team grow and develop as players and as people.

Whenever young people step forward to make a difference in their world it is a beautiful thing.  It’s reassuring and inspires hope.  But to hear them referred to as “future leaders” or “leaders of tomorrow” causes me to bristle a bit.  Yes, I expect they will be leaders in the future.  But they are also leaders today, here and now.  Whether or not they will be managers some day is irrelevant.  To refer to them simply as future leaders discounts their present leadership.  They may still have a lot to learn about leadership.  Don’t we all?  So instead of calling them future leaders, let’s just call them leaders.

Photo courtesy of my youngest son
at AESThetic Photography