Leading from the Top, Middle and Bottom

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Leading from the Top, Middle and Bottom

After reading senior editor Barbara Grondin Francella's cover story portrait of Wawa CEO Howard Stoeckel (see page 26), our thoughts turn to the ever-important topic of leadership. Everyone has their own idea of what leadership is. To many, leadership is often described as "the vision thing." Of course, good leaders have a vision of where they want to take their companies. But, vision is only a small part of being a leader. Good leaders know where they want to go and how to get there.

To Stoeckel, leadership involves being a good listener, synthesizing the ideas of his team, and, if necessary, simplifying those ideas to facilitate action.

"The game plan comes from the organization. It's not something I sit in a room by myself and think up," said Stoeckel, who added that he believes it is important to articulate that plan with passion and enthusiasm, and align the organization behind it.

Stoeckel and leaders like him are great communicators, motivators, and believe that doing the right things are just as important as doing things right.

But, does leadership have to always come from the top? More than a few consultants and pundits believe that CEOs can't change companies on their own. They need to foster a leadership mentality throughout the ranks, according to James Kelly and Scott Nadler of the global consulting firm, ERM.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Kelly and Nadler maintain that there are practical ways for managers below the top tier to play a leadership role that helps both them and their companies. For those willing, they suggest the following:
• Make the decision to be a leader;
• Focus on influence, not control;
• Make your mental organizational chart horizontal rather than vertical;
• Work on your "trusted advisor" skills;
• Don't wait for the perfect time, just find a good time.

Top executives can foster leadership from below by making it clear to their subordinates that they want them to broaden their perspective.

Leaders must focus on more than just short-term actions and consequences. They also must communicate their leadership expectations.

Kelly and Nadler also suggest that they:
• Expose themselves to a broader range of perspectives;
• Encourage questions without answers, and don't impose their own solutions;
• Ask "what if" questions;
• Openly discuss values, as well as value;
• Refresh their "radar screens" periodically.

Maybe leading from below is not such a new idea, however. The great World War II general, George S. Patton, knew something about that. He said, "Don't tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results."