Tuesday, July 7, 2015

'Spheres and Pyramids' : an analogy for leadership

In his book 'It worked for me : in life and leadership', Colin Powell uses a great analogy of how most organizations can be viewed as spheres and pyramids.

He writes:
"Most organizations are like pyramids, with the leaders at the top and everybody else on descending layers down to the bottom, where the heaviest physical work normally takes place and where people start out. Now imagine each person in that organization to be a sphere. On the lowest level of the pyramid, each sphere is tiny, but it’s capable of growing. Everything outside the pyramid is the environment in which the organization lives.

Over time people ascend within the pyramid from layer to ever higher and narrower layers. As they gain experience and show ability, their spheres grow bigger and bigger until they hit the middle walls of the pyramid. During this process, hopefully, they develop into leaders. Once that thing happens, the only way to keep growing and rising is to expand outside the pyramid. Rising leaders begin to learn about the world outside the narrow confines of the pyramid, the world in which the pyramid exists.   […]

At the top [of the pyramid], most of your time is devoted to the external environment […].
Your job is to seek opportunities, identify risks, obtain resources, and serve as the lead spokesman for the needs, aspirations and purposes of all the services."

I found it to be a great analogy for startups. 

As an individual contributor, your success mostly depends on you doing a great job on your own.  As you start rising in the organization, your success depends more and more on how you interact with others, how you inspire your team, how you get other team's managers to buy into your idea.  So, the job of a leader isn't to 'lead by example' and show an individual contributor how you can do it better than him.  But instead 'teach', 'set clear milestones', and 'hold people accountable'.  By the time that you become a Director or VP in an organization, you spend most of your time dealing with people outside the organization (investors, analysts, customers, etc.) vs internally.



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