Source: Mark Lukens, Fast Company
“In management circles, leadership tends to get reduced to two opposing models: you’re either a traditional top-down leader who believes in the organizing power of clear chains of command, or you’re a collaborative, bottom-up leader who puts more faith in flat organizations,” Mark Lukens wrote in an article for Fast Company. While some leaders religiously stick to one approach or the other, Lukens writes that few complex challenges leaders face can ever be managed using just one leadership style.
Top-down and bottom-up leadership don’t need to be mutually exclusive, but finding an appropriate mix isn’t always easy.
Bottom-up leadership functions by drawing on the skills and knowledge of all employees and emphasizing participation. The advantages of this management style are it gets many people’s input into a problem, allowing leaders to draw wisdom and information from multiple sources and choose the best idea. Lukens writes that this can also give employees a sense of ownership over their work, which will, in turn, increase employee engagement and motivation.
The focus of top-down leadership is to set a clear direction for the company to move toward. “Sometimes it takes a strong, visionary leader to map a clear sense of direction that might otherwise get lost in a mass of opinions that could muddy or compromise it,” Lukens writes.
Finding the Right Mix
Lukens recommends switching between leadership styles based on the task at hand. When guiding the company at large, looking at big picture goals and tasks, a top-down approach helps define goals and keep them present in employees’ minds.
When it comes to executing, though, leaders don’t need to micromanage every detail themselves. Instead, a bottom-up approach allowing multiple employees to take part and contribute is often more effective.