Leadership Top-Down

Leadership is often an art, not a science. There are many different ways to lead people and many different kinds of leaders. Not all of the methods are optimal in all situations. Many times, the leader must learn to fit into the organization. Oftentimes, the leader and their leadership style is characterized by whether they work from the top down or from the bottom up. Examining the pros and cons of these two disparate methods can help you determine what kind of leader you need to be in order to make the maximum positive impact on your organization.

Top Down: Visibility
When you are leading from the top down, you spend a great deal of time telling other people what to do and when to do it. You work with other managers and ensure that they can tell their staff what to work on and when to work on it. You also spend time with the organization’s leaders getting direction from them and passing it on down the chain. This arrangement is a very typical organizational structure and has been utilized in companies for a very long time.

One of the benefits is that the leaders (executives or otherwise) get a great deal of visibility. Workers in the organization know where to go when they need direction and the leaders can push work down to the teams easily when they need something done. The visibility you receive from being a top-down leader can help get the job done and also help the project team see that someone is in charge so that they can get their work done without worrying about the headaches that come from conflicting priorities of different leaders.

Bottom Up: In the Trenches
The leader who works from the bottom up will spend their time in the trenches with the workers who are executing the tasks for the project. They choose to not push tasks downward but instead help the resources determine what tasks they need to do and how they are going to do it. Being in the trenches will give the leader a perspective that someone who leads from the top down does not have. It is one thing to demand that the team finish the coding by Friday, it is quite another to be working right there beside them and understand just how impossible it will be to complete the task by Friday (or more likely, to see the amount of errors and defects that will be the result of meeting the deadline).

The leader who leads from the bottom up will instinctively know what the team needs to best do their jobs, and how they can meet the expectations of the client while keeping a high quality of workmanship.

Top Down: No Respect
One of the problems with leading from the top down is that the leader does not always get the respect from the people he or she is leading. They are less likely to identify with the leader and they may not see the leader as being someone who understands what is going on in the project team. This can become a real issue on the project when the project team feels completely disconnected from the leadership and then a mentality of “us versus them” begins to take over the project team.

While this is certainly not always the case of a top-down leader, it is an easy trap to fall into. The leadership must be aware of what is going on in the project team instead of just sitting back and passing out marching orders.

Bottom Up: Traction
When a leader works from the bottom up, they can lose traction in the organization. Because they are spending their time dealing with the project team and the details of the work going on in the project, they can lose the visibility that top-down leaders have. The stakeholders, management and decision makers of the organization may not see the leader as someone who is truly on top of everything. That can hurt when it is time to get buy-in on decisions or when stakeholders need to sit up and take note of what is going on. The leader who leads from the bottom up may not be the best spokesperson in the executive suite.

Leaders come in all shapes and styles. To be a truly effective leader, an executive or manager must learn what works best in their own organization. This is not a clear cut easy issue; there is room for a leader to spend some of their time leading from the top down and some of their time from the bottom up; both styles have merits as long as the leader is careful to understand the pros and cons of the different styles.

Leadership is often an art, not a science. There are many different ways to lead people and many different kinds of leaders. Not all of the methods are optimal in all situations. Many times, the leader must learn to fit into the organization. Oftentimes, the leader and their leadership style is characterized by whether they work from the top down or from the bottom up. Examining the pros and cons of these two disparate methods can help you determine what kind of leader you need to be in order to make the maximum positive impact on your organization.

Top Down: Visibility
When you are leading from the top down, you spend a great deal of time telling other people what to do and when to do it. You work with other managers and ensure that they can tell their staff what to work on and when to work on it. You also spend time with the organization’s leaders getting direction from them and passing it on down the chain. This arrangement is a very typical organizational structure and has been utilized in companies for a very long time.

One of the benefits is that the leaders (executives or otherwise) get a great deal of visibility. Workers in the organization know where to go when they need direction and the leaders can push work down to the teams easily when they need something done. The visibility you receive from being a top-down leader can help get the job done and also help the project team see that someone is in charge so that they can get their work done without worrying about the headaches that come from conflicting priorities of different leaders.

Bottom Up: In the Trenches
The leader who works from the bottom up will spend their time in the trenches with the workers who are executing the tasks for the project. They choose to not push tasks downward but instead help the resources determine what tasks they need to do and how they are going to do it. Being in the trenches will give the leader a perspective that someone who leads from the top down does not have. It is one thing to demand that the team finish the coding by Friday, it is quite another to be working right there beside them and understand just how impossible it will be to complete the task by Friday (or more likely, to see the amount of errors and defects that will be the result of meeting the deadline).

The leader who leads from the bottom up will instinctively know what the team needs to best do their jobs, and how they can meet the expectations of the client while keeping a high quality of workmanship.

Top Down: No Respect
One of the problems with leading from the top down is that the leader does not always get the respect from the people he or she is leading. They are less likely to identify with the leader and they may not see the leader as being someone who understands what is going on in the project team. This can become a real issue on the project when the project team feels completely disconnected from the leadership and then a mentality of “us versus them” begins to take over the project team.

While this is certainly not always the case of a top-down leader, it is an easy trap to fall into. The leadership must be aware of what is going on in the project team instead of just sitting back and passing out marching orders.

Bottom Up: Traction
When a leader works from the bottom up, they can lose traction in the organization. Because they are spending their time dealing with the project team and the details of the work going on in the project, they can lose the visibility that top-down leaders have. The stakeholders, management and decision makers of the organization may not see the leader as someone who is truly on top of everything. That can hurt when it is time to get buy-in on decisions or when stakeholders need to sit up and take note of what is going on. The leader who leads from the bottom up may not be the best spokesperson in the executive suite.

Leaders come in all shapes and styles. To be a truly effective leader, an executive or manager must learn what works best in their own organization. This is not a clear cut easy issue; there is room for a leader to spend some of their time leading from the top down and some of their time from the bottom up; both styles have merits as long as the leader is careful to understand the pros and cons of the different styles.

 

About the Author: smeenable

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