Failing Up: Hierarchy Worship

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The Race to Nowhere

People-centric leadership is an idea often praised; its absence often felt. It’s an absence poignantly noticed when encountering an unnecessary hurdle while simply doing a job, when having to wait for inevitable permission to properly help a customer, or when being held responsible and derided for something beyond our control.

Bleeding the human element out of these and various other tasks is the rigidity of organizational hierarchy—the red tape between seemingly endless tiers of teams and managers. Decision or design by committee may sound well and good, but such structures can erode the very thing they were built to sustain—effective teams.

As celebrated disruptor Steve Jobs once mentioned in this video, productivity is built not upon tiers of hierarchy, but those of trust. When we empower teams and people to make and execute decisions, we grant them opportunity and space to grow. Rigid power structures not only threaten growth, outlined in studies such as this, but seep the luster out of people.

How we build and adhere to organizational structures can help or harm our people, discussed in this podcast with Google’s Dart Lindsley and researcher Eric Anicich. Contributing to such atmospheres of fear and stagnation are authoritarian teammates and leaders, those who intentionally or inadvertently suffocate freedom of exploration and contrarian expression. Move wrong and the T-Rex focuses on you.

At the opposite end of the spectrum lurks the absence of hierarchy, which can sometimes limit authoritarian influences. That isn’t to say that those with powerful personalities shouldn’t have a voice. Steve Jobs himself was notoriously difficult to work with, but that didn’t diminish his impact as a renowned visionary. Certain powerful personalities, such as the Visionary type in the SurePeople Prism®, can either build people up or tear them down. This is why we must pay attention to that sometimes-forgotten human element, vividly illustrated by the Relationship Advisor.

Passionately described in this TED Talk by Professor Markus Reitzig are the numerous intricacies of hierarchies at work. We can build neither an organization nor a single team of people all identical to Steve Jobs. Each of us has different capabilities, goals, and needs—out of life and out of each other.

We are all different. So too should be the voices in our organizations and teams.

“Being a monarchist, and fawning over those ‘above’ you, you must naturally despise those ‘below’ or on the same socioeconomic level as yourself, because that is how hierarchy worship works.” 
– Julie Burchill

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