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Top Down v. Bottom Up Leadership

A new acquaintance recently asked about my business. I told him that I help response leaders improve, among other things.

He, like so many, believe that leadership is reserved for the person at the very top of an organization. A description I don’t agree with, as you likely know by now.

Because it was on my mind, I recalled a recent event to make my case:

At one of my son’s recent soccer matches, the referee allowed the game to get very unruly, very quickly simply by not exhibiting a requisite amount of, you know, leadership.

If you’ve ever been around competitive sports, you know that the crowd dynamic among players and fans can be like a wildfire if left unchecked.

Once the game and some of the fans were out of hand, the “lead” referee for the tournament was asked to come over to attempt to restore order.

You see, the assigned referee only felt obligated and empowered to enforce the game rules. Which left plenty of wiggle room for the unruly to become really unruly.

He clearly did not feel empowered to make the necessary leadership decisions above and beyond that in order for everyone to walk away feeling it was a fair experience.

So who do we want to work in our organizations?

  1. someone with only delegated tasks to complete … or
  2. someone who is empowered to lead despite unforeseen obstacles?

Thankfully, I know which one my clients want.

Leadership wins when everyone’s a leader!

How about you?



Mike McKenna

About the author

Mike McKenna is the founder and president of TEAM Solutions. He helps public and private sector leaders improve their outcomes before, during and after a planned event or unplanned crisis.

Please contact Mike via the Contact page.

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  • Indeed, Sheila! And in my ‘ripped from the headlines’ example, the ref did receive lots of, uh, “encouragement” from coaches and parents to tighten up their calls to, as you said “keep everyone safe and play fair”.

    Far too many organizations have leaders that fail to act when the moment calls for it.

  • Sheila Silva says:

    You are correct, but it is also the coach’s job to let the ref/umpire know that the ref/umpire’s inability to call by the rules will get someone hurt and he/she should follow the rules and call the game accordingly. They are there for a reason, to keep everyone safe and fair play.

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