33: Top-Down Leadership

Does this represent your style of leadership?

Good News! After many requests, we are working on producing my best selling book ?Top Ten?Mistakes Leaders Make”?into an audio book, which should be out sometime later this year. To celebrate, I will be reading from some of the chapters of the book here on the podcast. In fact for this episode, I will be reading from Chapter One.

What I cover in the podcast this week:

  1. A reading of the first chapter of ?Top Ten?Mistakes Leaders Make? which deals with the most common leadership style, the top-down attitude.
  2. Why this leadership style is so prevalent, and why it is so ineffective.
  3. The development of new, more effective styles of leadership over the last 40 years.
  4. An explanation of Servant Leadership, which is what I teach my students, along with the greatest example of this style in Jesus Christ.

Contrasting Two Approaches

Perhaps the oldest, and most traditional style of leadership is the top-down, autocratic style of the military leader or government dictator. The one that yells ?jump!? and expects to be asked how high on the way up. It is a style that fights against knowledge, for the dictator knows that gullibility follows ignorance.

Top-down leadership breeds misery and contempt among subordinates, rather than inspiring them to excellence. It often spreads this misery down through the ranks, as a worker that comes home tends to bark orders at their spouse, who in turn gets mad and yells at the kids, who in turn take out their frustrations on the dog and so on down the line.

In the 1960?s a new model began to emerge based on the idea of respecting individual workers and giving them much more participation in their own supervision, with less rigid direction and control from their supervisors. However these ideas are really not new. They are based on the example put forth in the New Testament by Jesus, known today as Servant Leadership.

Superior or Servant?

In a top-down approach leaders believe they are in the position of being served, having everyone else take orders from them and carry them out. Servant leaders are there?to serve their organizations, being at the bottom of an inverted pyramid and helping everyone else get things done to move the organization forward. Often times this means that instead of sitting in your office, making phone calls or sending off emails telling others what to do, you may need to be walking around the organization, talking to people to ask how things are going, and lending a hand where you can to help get the work done.

Servant leadership is about caring for others more than ourselves, about showing others the way by example. It requires us to have compassion for others and to lend a hand wherever we can, even to weep with those that weep.

The One Who Showed Us The Way

During the Last Supper, when Jesus knew he was about to be betrayed and that his death was imminent, he removed his robe, called his disciples to sit down, and washed their feet. This is the ultimate act of servanthood, especially in his culture. This is the only man in history that I would think could rightfully be a dictator, and yet he showed his followers amazing compassion, and then told them to follow his example with the rest of the world.

Final Thoughts

In examining servant leadership, here are some practical tips taken directly from the New Testament:

  • Not abusive authority, but servitude (see John 13)
  • Not deplorable delegation, but freedom for people to be themselves (see Eph. 4)
  • Not lack of listening, but focus on the needs of others (see Phil 2).
  • Not dictatorship, but partners in the process (see 1 Peter 5:1-4).
  • Not holding on, but letting go with affection (see 1 Thes. 5:11-14)
  • Not egocentrism, but power for others (see 1 Peter 5:1-4).

Leadership should not be the angry bark of a leader demanding to be served, nor should it be the scared, pathetic toiling of underlings. Rather, leadership should be the joyful exercise of a leader serving their organization by helping out wherever they can, and encouraging others to do likewise.

Books to recommend:

Servant Leadership by Robert K. Greenleaf

The Human Side of Enterprise by Douglas McGregor

Developing the Leader within You by Dr. John Maxwell