February 19, 2018

Top-down or bottom-up?

Balancing a baseball batWhich is the best way of running organisations?

Answer: Neither.

We need both, if we want the best results and an engaged team. Top-down for direction and accountability, bottom-up for energy and resilience and adaptability.

We need to keep the two in equilibrium, and that’s a bit like balancing a stick on our finger—not so hard if we concentrate, but let our mind wander and the stick is soon on the ground.

In many corporate organisations, the stick fell to the ground a long time ago, often on the side of autocratic top-down management, like some of the banks, but sometimes also on the side of excessively bottom-up arrangements with no coherence, like the Co-op in the UK perhaps, with its current difficulties.

So a function of leadership then…

Is to act, as if from outside the organisation, keeping the top-down and bottom-up in balance. Often we need to stimulate the bottom-up dynamic before we can event start.

How adept are you at acting in your organisation and on it at the same time?

Standing for balance

Three people in a meetingDo “they” want to know what you stand for?

Do they want you to be on one side or the other?

Much easier for them to deal with you that way; clearer too, I suppose.

But wrong, if you actually stand for balance.

Hold your ground.

How consistent is your business?

Group of business peopleOr you could say, “How congruent?”

Let’s focus on the individual first…

A congruent person is one whose behaviour is a consistent reflection of their values and beliefs, and their sense of identity. Some of these values and beliefs may be in tension with each other, but they will be held in balance. What the person actually does will consistently reflect that chosen balance point.

To us, they seem “sorted” and very present. We may well be drawn to them. And their results will speak for themselves. Their clarity gives them a power.

A congruent business or organization then is one whose behaviour is a reflection of a consistent set of values and beliefs, reconciled to a chosen point of balance—for example, between cost and quality.

And just as with an individual…

We know what a congruent business stands for. It has a clear brand presence. We may well be drawn to it. And its results will speak for themselves.

Moreover, the business’s people will be able to take their lead from that consistency.

Here’s the thing…

Lose the connection between the values (like cost and quality) your business needs to hold in balance and you won’t have a congruent business. And your people can’t help but amplify that lack of congruence. After all, they have more than one master to serve.

And your brand will suffer.

A change to lead then is increasing the congruence in your business.

And, of course, it’ll need to start with you.

Why the ancients had it all figured

Cape Sunio at nightYou notice it immediately. The meeting’s hardly started before you realise it’s all going to be facts and figures; all logical and analytical—nothing from the heart at all. I can spot this behavior well because it used to be mine. It took me years since it was first pointed out to me to get out of my head enough to even notice the need to. Now I see it all the time.

The thing is…

We’ve come to rely on our thinking—literally what goes on in our heads—to see us through, or to distract us completely from issues, or problems with people we’d rather leave to another day.

We’ve also filled our lives up with technology and many great benefits have flowed from that, and no doubt will continue to.

The ancients didn’t have that luxury. Their lives were grim in many ways.

But here’s the thing…

Because they weren’t distracted by umpteen channels of information and entertainment and because their lives must have been tough, our distant ancestors had both time and motivation to explore the inner mysteries of life—much more than we do in fact.


The subject of study hasn’t changed in the thousands of year that have passed.

So the conclusion is really inescapable….

When it comes to managing our inner selves, our ancestors knew better than we do.

Understanding a little more about the duality of Yin and Yang is one example. You might find clues as to how to improve your life, your work, and your dealings with others.

Feedback is not a negotiation

St Pauls with protestors camped outsideThe protestors have achieved a great deal of publicity. Some of them, without intending to, have caused a religious institution (St Paul’s Cathedral in London) to lose its balance (about whose side it’s on), with senior figures resigning.

The protestors are unclear about what exactly they want. Some lobbyists for the other side (the financially greedy, as the protestors see it) ask us to dismiss the protests because “they have no clear demands; no alternative to offer.”

The lobbyists see the situation as a negotiation: “Tell us what you want and we’ll give up some of what we have” (but largely carry on as before).

When someone says they don’t like what we’re doing, it is tempting to say “what do you want me to do instead?” and make a negotiation out of it.

But really we’re getting feedback, and it’s up to us to change our behavior when someone says they don’t like it. That’s the only way to grow as a person.

If we want to be accepted (by ourselves as much as anyone else), WE need to work out what to do with the feedback.

We imagine the targets of the Occupy protestors’ ire care nothing about being accepted. Do you think that’s true?

At St Paul’s, it seems to be taking someone of the Bishop of London’s wisdom to bring stability to the situation. (Dr Richard Chartres impressed many with his address at William and Kate’s wedding.)

So what’s different about the Bishop?

Well, I suggest he has a particular balance that comes from dealing with opposing ideas and reconciling them, and, I suspect, accepting feedback.

How do we know this?

Because Dr Richard has a certain charisma, a presence; and these two things go together: reconciling opposing forces within ourselves increases our appeal to other people. Do this as a lifelong effort and you have a person with the personal authority of the Bishop of London.

And that’s why feedback is best just accepted, and not negotiated away.

And why reconnecting the financial and the ethical will work out well for those that most need to.