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SUBMITTED BY Mark Meckler ON Tue, 12/02/2014 - 01:17

Mark Meckler Ph.D. - Crafting A Strategy

Top Down, Bottom Up, & Middle Out Leadership

Let’s get the message clear from the start. Everyone in your company needs to know how to lead. Everyone in your company needs to know how to follow. Everyone in your company needs training to learn how to lead, follow and to think strategically. It is what all the great companies do: They empower leaders, followers, and thinkers at every level of the organization.

The goal of great managers is to know when to lead, when to follow, and to model a consistent commitment to employee training, culture, and the employees’ strategic thinking. Managers accomplish this by:

  • Letting go of any illusions of machine-like control. A business is not a machine so don’t treat it like one.
  • Getting as many people as you can throughout the operation educated and trained to think about business.
  • Encouraging and preparing everyone to lead when necessary, and everyone to follow when necessary.

Ken Kesey, the famous Oregonian, author, leader and founder of the Merry Pranksters, had a wonderful saying: “Feed the hungry bee.” What does this mean for managers and owners working hard to build and run a business? It means finding a way to accommodate and support anyone in your company that has the desire to get better. It means managers must work hard for everyone and anyone in their organization who has the motivation to help and to do more. Because if you feed the hungry bee, you get more honey.

A manager who is not a good leader may be selfish and self-serving; only accommodating and supporting her own goals and personal agendas. Many managers do this with some positive results, but the selfish manager’s won’t have hungry bees, they will have bored drones. Selfish managers will not get anywhere near the full potential of the team’s output of honey. A manager who is a good leader will do three other things every time:

  1. Explain the goals. The company goals. How the division’s goals fit into the company’s goals. How they differ somewhat from the company’s goals. Convey why the company and the division have these goals. Communicate which goals are being met and which are not. Great managers also make it personal, and never forget that if an employee’s personal goals are being met, their professional goals will flourish. They do this by sharing their own personal & professional goals with potential followers, and describe how they fit with the broader goals, and how they may differ. The good leader is also a “real person”: with goals and desires, emotions and conflicts just like everyone else. This is level 2, leading with the head.
  2. Describe how these goals fit together and are driven by deeply held values and strong feelings. God managers emphasize their own personal values and the company’s values, beliefs and expectations. They will inspire feelings and emotions in those who hear them. By doing so, a number of those people identify and freely choose to put their energy and motivation toward those very same goals. This way, many of your hungry bees want to work on just the very things you would have hoped. Instead of simply forcing them to work on what you have hoped to force. This is level 3, leading with the heart.
  3. Offer meaningful rewards that can be expected if project performance goals are achieved, and model the kind of behavior that will most likely lead to project success. A good leader knows that if the rewards and punishments don’t really matter, it’s kind of a joke and it doesn’t work. This is level 1, leading with the hands.

Good Management Is Like A Rose Bush

Every time we listen to our employees we must also hear them. When we hear an employee’s personal goals, values, expectations and hopes, we become less like a machine and more like a rose bush. You have to feed the soil and then let things grow, never really knowing where the next flower bud will emerge. We must also prune branches when they have finished blooming so that resources may flow to other parts of the plant that are ready to produce.

Because of this organic growth path, leaders and strategic thinkers are needed all over a company, in every division, department and function. Leaders and thinkers are needed for projects, initiatives and improvements to emerge, to grow, and to flower. Strategic business thinking must reside all over your business. Train your employees, and then make an ongoing commitment to spend time at work talking business. Get their brains as cleverly thinking about the business as they are about designing a bottle label, or brewing up some fine sour beer.

I have emphasized elsewhere how important it is to allow others to take the lead sometimes. The manager who tries to lead in everything is bound to fail. Leading all the time is simply too difficult and too exhausting. Leading a great company takes a team effort. Sometimes you lead and sometimes you follow. In fact, leading only at the right times is strategically critical to success. Anyone who is a fan of cycling understands this concept. The fastest rider and best sprinter do not the lead peloton until the right moment. They don’t even lead within their own team; they follow behind conserving energy for much of the time! Strategic leadership requires allowing others to lead when the time is right, and following properly during those times.

Share The Responsibility To Lead

The manager that takes everything on him or her self is being foolish in two different ways. First, they are wearing themselves out so that over the long run, they are too mentally and physically exhausted to do great work. Second, they are training others in the organization not to lead, and sending an implicit message that the firm does not believe they can lead. Not a wise course. Bad strategy.

Give your employees the resources and training that they need to succeed. Give them opportunities to develop and lead new initiatives and projects. As the owner or upper level manager, many times you need to follow. Support employees and coach them, subjugate yourself to a smaller and role on the team. Show everyone on the team that even the owner is willing to be a follower in order to help a budding project flower. And when projects flower, the hungry bees deliver the honey.