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Leadership All the Way Down

Within any professional organisation, there's a leader, managers and workers. For the most part, this structure is viewed as a pyramid with the leader firmly placed at the pinnacle. While there may be smaller structures within the organisation, with their own local leaders, the shape remains; a leader at the top, everyone else beneath. The problem with this perception is that it ignores the obvious truth about our lives. We are all leaders. 

What is a Leader?

A leader can be defined as someone who knows and utilises three things - What, How and Why. 

Any CEO will be able to tell you what their company does, how it does it and why they do it.  They take these knowledge points about the company and use the same trio of questions to formulate new questions such as, what else can we do, how can we do things better, why do we do things this way, why not some other way?

If we look at someone in an entry-level position, say a data entry clerk, is the same mechanism of leadership available to them?

They certainly know what they do, how they do it, and why they do it (in a personal and corporate sense.) They’re also well placed to think about the secondary versions of these questions, what would make this process better, how can we implement that, why don’t we do it that way already?

The reality of any organisation is that everyone is responsible for the leadership of at least one person, themselves. While self-leadership as a concept may sound a little like ‘it turns out you were the leader all along’, there’s no doubting that we all have the agency of leadership in the decisions that we take, the work that we do and how we assess and refine that work.

Leadership is not Management

Some will still insist that a leader leads people. You can’t just lead yourself, you can only determine for yourself. This might seem a reasonable point of view, after all, if you lead someone should follow, and if you’re both leader and follower you may get torn as to which direction is the best one. 

We almost never perform our work in complete isolation. Business doesn’t happen in isolation. Businesses need structure. To maintain the structure, as well as implement changes, a management system is vital. 

The primary role of management is operational; manage the people, resources and the process. Management systems primarily focus on what there already is, the status quo. Management is the what without much of the how or why. 

Leaders have a state of mind that pushes beyond what there is and how it is done, that looks inwardly and asks why. Leaders have followers because of their exploration of new paths, areas and ideas, beyond the boundaries of the status quo.

That’s why leadership roles sit atop a management structure because that’s where you can see them, where they have maximum exposure. When they go somewhere, we can follow. We’re also influenced and led, by those around us. The example that’s close at hand can be far more potent than the one in the distance. Being your own leader can provide at-hand leadership examples for other employees. When you go to new places, explore new ideas and ways of working, others will follow.

None of this is to say that we should do away with management. You still need a hierarchy of decision making, of increasing levels of responsibility and accountability. Although, the more we commit to the idea of leaders as being solely the pinnacle of management structures the more we enforce a sense of rigidity and conformity in employees.

A system where almost every part is inflexible will have trouble moving anywhere, no matter how strong the pull. A dynamic system, with flexibility and development built in, can grow and adapt and reshape itself into the most agile version of itself possible. 

Then, it can go wherever it needs to. 

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Posted on Fri, June 07, 2019 in Leadership
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