Upside Down Leadership

Accountability Organizational culture Organizational leadership


Key Point: Overall, leadership isn’t getting much better. Even though organizations are spending tons of money on leadership development, statistically we aren’t seeing much leadership improvement. According to a recent HBR article: “70 percent of leaders rate themselves as inspiring and motivating – much in the same way as we all rate ourselves as great drivers. But this stands in stark contrast to how employees perceive their leaders. A survey published by Forbes found that 65 percent of employees would forego a pay raise if it meant seeing their leader fired, and a 2016 Gallup engagement survey found that 82 percent of employees see their leaders as fundamentally uninspiring. In our opinion, these two things are directly related. There is a vast upside to human leadership. As data from McKinsey & Company shows, when employees are intrinsically motivated, they are 32 percent more committed and 46 percent more satisfied with their job and perform 16 percent better.”

The idea that there is a vast upside to human leadership is a head scratcher. I guess somewhere along the road we signed up for inhuman leadership? And 65 percent would forego a raise to see their boss fired? Holy cow! So, how might we rapidly change this so-called inhuman leadership?

Based on 40 plus years of real world experience and leading research, I suggest the following:

  1. Allow employees to transparently rate leaders in confidential ways. The data trend would be your friend, or not. If we used a minimum number of input (10 people?) to openly rate leaders, we would see leadership improve dramatically. The audience is usually right. People have a right to great leaders. Continued poor ratings would require leaders to improve or be replaced.
  2. Expect that every leader should ask for feedback FIRST. Leaders like the ability and even expect to give feedback to direct reports. However, modern research reinforces the value of leaders creating psychologically safer environments, by setting the foundation for meaningful conversations and asking how they might improve first!
  3. Change one-on-one meetings to have leaders ask only two questions: How might I help you? What might I do better to advance our purpose?
  4. Adjust the span of leadership control to a minimum of 20 to 1. Leaders spend too much time “checking up” rather than adding value. Most of the time meetings are for leaders’ need to know and command/control. In more modern systems, leaders are more like gardeners than commanders.

Personal Leadership Moves:

  1. How are you rated as a leader by your direct reports? Would you be recommended to a friend? Family member? If Uber drivers are rated, shouldn’t you, me and all leaders be too?
  2. Get out in front and ask for feedback first. Say “thank you,” and go forward.

Turning things right side up in personal leadership,


One Millennial View: For Millennials, it seems that the most attractive organizations to work for offer as much autonomy as possible. If a leader doesn’t trust that their employees know how to do their job, then why the heck did they hire them? That said, leaders should also be revered. It’s FUN to have a great leader: A mentor you look up to, a person you want to perform well for, and someone with the ability to give you occasional positive acknowledgment or a kick-in-the-pants if need be. Leaders should strive to be bragged about by their employees at happy hour, not the subject of a “screw them” toast.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis