There have been many discussions around our dinner table lately about the ineffectiveness of top-down leadership, and how this model may have run its course. It may be a generational issue, but I think most educated tech-savvy workers today are no longer content to work in a "Do it because I said so!" environment, where employees feel disenfranchised and ultimately disengaged.
This point was touched upon in a Ted Talk I listened to on the way home today by Sir Ken Robinson. In the talk, Sir Ken discussed how the current education system works against engaging students to learn, and how the teaching profession is more concerned with disseminating information rather than teaching students how to learn. According to Robinson, there are three principles we need to recognize for the human mind to flourish: "(1) Human beings are different and diverse. (2) If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without further assistance. (3) Human life is inherently creative.” Robinson believes that the education system the way it is designed today, kills creativity in students by encouraging homogeneity and standardization. I believe the same can be said for most work environments in general.
Every business, organization, school system, and even family is terrified to make a mistake, and as a result, much of our time is devoted to avoiding making mistakes rather than to nurturing growth, creativity, and connectedness. I believe that the root cause of this mentality is tied up in the ineffectiveness of top-down leadership. Ken Robinson sums this up brilliantly when he says: “The real role of leadership is not command and control, but climate control.”
I see this every day in my job. I work for one of the largest school boards in Canada, and during my 22 years of teaching, I’ve witnessed a loss of big picture thinking from supervisors on up to the Chair of the Board. Everyone along the chain of command is terrified about making mistakes over issues related to inclusion, standardized curriculum, and completion of governmental statistics. As result, we have lost sight of our mandate: fostering a love of learning in our students. The idea prevalent in the United States that “no child should be left behind” is really ironic because “top-down” administration in the school system leaves no room for diversity, varied learning styles, and creativity. I can think of no better way to leave most of our students behind!
We are no longer living in the era of the Industrial Revolution where individuals were merely cogs in wheel. Maybe I’m just naive, but I feel like everything I’m thinking about lately comes back to Brene Brown’s philosophy of “strength through vulnerability”. For our modern day organizations to thrive, and for average employees to feel engaged again, the role of top-down leadership should be tossed aside, or at least amended. What’s wrong with leaders, supervisors, and administrators admitting that they don’t have all the answers? Do we really have anything to fear by empowering people to problem solve and strategize at a grass-roots level? When it comes to learning how your organization can address the needs of those it serves, is there anyW better place to turn than to the people in the organization who are working the front lines? Creative solutions are incubated in an atmosphere of collaboration not in a culture of subordination.
By empowering people at all levels of an organization, the “culture” of that organization makes a radical shift because everyone becomes invested in making things better. It can not be denied that mistakes will be made by divesting control of power and decision making, but allowing people the freedom to stumble along the way could create a whole new generation of employees who feel motivated to go to work every morning, could reduce the escalating level of work-related stress due to lack of engagement, and ultimately, could unleash a wave of creativity that our world is sorely lacking.