How Hierarchy is Hurting Your Business

Throwing WordsLeadership Relational ProductivityHow Hierarchy is Hurting Your Business

How Hierarchy is Hurting Your Business

Part 1

Missing the Mark: The Problem with Task Exuberance

One Saturday when I was in high school, my brothers and I were tasked with digging a hole in the front yard so we could fix a leaking water line.  My father had turned off the water line at the street and pointed us to the area to start digging.

Sometime later, my father came out to check on our progress. We were proud for him to see the size of the hole, check out the exposed pipe, and fix the leak.  We had delivered big on the job.

Or so we thought.

Before setting in to replace the pipe, my father did one final check. He turned the water line back on to mark the section of pipe to replace.  And guess what?  The leak was nowhere to be seen.  It turns out that the leak wasn’t where we’d been digging.  It was five feet further into the yard.  

In our effort to dig the hole to uncover the pipe, we never stopped to check to confirm that we were digging in the right spot to locate the leak.   We were so focused on the task of digging, not one of us thought to do a spot check of the pipe along the way.  In fact, we forgot why we were digging in the first place.

We see examples of this in traditional, top-down hierarchical organizations, and it’s one reason author and Red Hat CEO, Jim Whitehurst, in The Open Organization, argues that “there is, in fact, a better way to run a company” than the traditional top-down method. It’s “an open and collaborative way,” one that fosters communication, teamwork, and true innovation by advocating and employing a meritocratic model of leadership.

In fact, we’d go so far as to say that the traditional top-down, hierarchical leadership model is no longer working in today’s digital age, for several reasons:

More and more employees want to have a say in how a company is run. They need to feel a sense of purpose and passion in order to take ownership of your business goals.

Today’s workforce is full of millennials. These young workers are typically non-traditionalists who demand to receive consistent, constructive feedback from their employers and peers.

Success in the digital age requires speed, agility, and innovation. These traits are more readily fostered inside of organizations that naturally inspire and motivate employees to think and behave entrepreneurially.

Hierarchies stifle growth by forcing workers to be compliant rather than productive. Compliance might seem like a good short-term strategy, but long-term, it limits your organization’s true potential. In order to be innovative and to compete in the digital age, it’s necessary to replace the traditional top-down model of leadership with a meritocratic model.

In second part of this series, we will share a few simple steps you can take toward transforming your organization’s leadership from a hurting hierarchy to a moneymaking meritocracy.

As leaders, it’s critical that we engage our teams toward meaningful action.  That’s what it really means to employ.  But if leaders can’t communicate the mission and set the environment for their teams to be successful through the mission, the results often look like what happened that Saturday morning – the team digs in and wow, do they have a beautiful hole.  But they still can’t fix the leak.


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