Leading from the top presents many challenges—you could also think of these as responsibilities—that have an impact on the viability of the enterprise. How do you maintain the energy that supported the growth of the business from its inception? Whether the enterprise is new or old, this challenge is the same.
Let’s begin the discussion assuming the enterprise is at its early stages. As explained in It’s the EconoME, Stupid once an entrepreneurial enterprise realizes sufficient growth in demand for its product/service what arises is the need to employ the services of others to carry out the daily business operations so as to satisfactorily meet the growing demand—the new enterprise becomes a business organization. As a result the enterprise becomes a bit more complex because one not only must manage the business but now also manage those doing the work of the business. With so many more hands involved, the work of the enterprise must be brought to order. This is a critical issue for those leading from the top.
The common practice—not necessarily best practice—is to break up the work of the enterprise into smaller pieces, partitioning it into more manageable parts. Usually the partitioning occurs based on functional areas allowing those with the same or very similar tasks to perform to comprise a department over which a manager can provide control.
Structurally, the organization is hierarchically configured where the central locus of control—planning and directing the work—is from the top. That is, each one below is answerable or accountable to the next higher level within the organization.
Square Pegs & Round Holes
With the emphasis on control what is often lost in all of this is the fact that the hired knowledge, abilities and potential are people. Yet, many organize and manage as if what was hired are mere instruments of the business. No wonder people become dispirited with both their work and the management of the organization! No wonder the entrepreneurial spirit is often lost!
Underlying the complexity is the fact that different people can and likely do perceive and think differently. As Shivan S. Subramaniam (CEO, FM Global) noted in a recent interview, “people don’t necessarily do things the way you would do them…not everybody will behave the way you behave.” A my-way-or-the-highway approach limits potential by disregarding the great advantage that can be realized from leveraging this diversity. Therefore those at the top must enable those employed by the organization to exercise their knowledge, abilities and potential for the benefit of both the organization and the people of the organization. Leading effectively enables, it doesn’t disable, potential.
In regards to potential, leaders must create the space so that people can freely exercise their capabilities. A structure and culture must be provided so that people’s potential will emerge in and through the process of performing the work of the enterprise. As explained in a previous post every organization self-actualizes: But not every organization self-actualizes its greatest potential.
Many organizations are limited, not in potential but in what those in authority cause to be probable. If management manages as if the organization is a hard mechanical system—relating to people as objects with only instrumental value—then what gets actualized will be far less than the potential that is possible. As Shivan claimed, “people can always perform a whole lot better than how you think they’re going to perform. You need to really give them the opportunity to do that.” Clearly leading the bottom from the top requires approaching business with a different mindset.