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» The Dance of Leadership from Gumption
A healthy community is like a dance, with different dancers stepping forward to take the lead at different times, and others following those leads. Even followers are leaders, as we lead ourselves along paths or sequences illuminated by those who [Read More]


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Jim Horning

This gave me a name and a good writen description for a style of leadership that I have observed, but did not know how to communicate. I've seen it work, and produce some fantastic results.

Kevin Faulkner

Being effective when leading from below
With organizations under pressure to constantly produce short-term results there is a need to have leaders at all level within an organization. Leadership today is not about position or authority, it’s about influence and responsibility. And those who are leading from below, rather than from the top of an organization have a unique set of challenges. Middle and lower management need to deal with the day-to-day operational issues, whilst at the same time focusing on bringing about the necessary strategic change.
Make the decision to be a leader. “….In every case of successful leadership from below that we have studied, the manager made a conscious decision to move beyond the service and governance roles, without waiting to be told to do so…. [How?] ……. First, they reorganized their group to make themselves less essential to the provision of services or the exercise of governance. This began to free up time and energy for leadership…. Second, the managers we studied opened themselves up to influences from outside the company. In many companies, middle managers have been trained to focus on internal rather than external signals…… To take on a leadership role, managers needed to listen to the signals coming from outside — customers, competitors, suppliers, neighbors, and the media. Then they could begin thinking about what those signals meant for action inside the company. “
Focus on influence, not control. “Every successful case we have found of leadership from below involved a basic shift in thinking: The managers did their job with their colleagues — not to them or for them. People simply react more enthusiastically to being enlisted in a common cause than they do to being ordered around…… [How?] ….Adopt the perspective of the people you’re trying to influence; don’t make them adopt yours….. Expose others to your information; don’t hoard it….. Aim to influence existing work processes; don’t build new ones…… Don’t worry about being proved right….. Keep things clear and simple…… Keep a sharp focus. “
Work on your “trusted adviser” skills. “You have to earn the right to influence people. People have to want to talk with you, and value what they hear from you. This requires more than being seen as a technical expert. It requires being seen as a trusted adviser….. [How?] ….. The trusted adviser has skills that turn conversations into meaningful discussions that make people want to seek you out. Listen more than you talk; ask questions that broaden people’s perspective, instead of telling them how to think or what to do. Without violating confidences, share what others have seen and done in similar circumstances.”
Don’t wait for the perfect time, just find a good time. “There is never a perfect time to take the risks of leading from below. When times are good, everyone is too busy and no one seems bothered by the need to do things differently. When times are bad, everyone is too busy (or too scared) and there are too many other demands….. [How?] …. look for situations where the complacency that pervades most companies has been disturbed. In those situations, there will be less resistance to change. There may even be an active desire for new approaches. Mergers, acquisitions and divestitures all break the existing patterns in the way a company operates. “

I think these are really good insights, some of which I already use with effective results….


Kevin: thanks for sharing those inspiring ideas! I found the entire text of the original article at the MIT Sloan Management Review -- Leading from Below, by James Kelly and Scott Nadler -- and the excerpts you shared clearly cover the highlights.

A few of the items you noted resonate particularly deeply with me:

"To take on a leadership role, managers needed to listen to the signals coming from outside — customers, competitors, suppliers, neighbors, and the media"

I'd earlier reflected on the notion that everyone's a customer ... but in my most recent blog entry, on radical transparency, I started ruminating on the notion that everyone's a partner, and that the distinctions between internal and external are eroding.

One distinction I do like is the emphasis on influence rather than control, and the promotion of an invitational and conversational approach to interactions.

Finally, at the risk of [further] exposing my soft side, one of the themes that I believe underlies all of the principles articulated by Dee, James, Scott and Kevin is love, or perhaps more specifically, bizlove (my paraphrasing of Tim Sanders' book, Love is the Killer App).

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