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Flip the Org Chart in 2020!

Source | | Mark Lipscomb, Vice President, Global Talent

About 14 years ago, I was at the airport waiting to get on a flight for a business trip. Also waiting for the flight was a group of Army soldiers who were starting their long journey to Afghanistan. I was sitting next to the officer in charge of the group, having a conversation. The ticket agent was trying to upgrade as many soldiers as she could to Business Class as a thank you. As I sat there next to the officer, the agent came over and said to him, “Sir, I was able to get just over half of your group into Business Class. I have your roster here, starting with you at the top, from senior rank down. For the upgrades, I assume you want me to just start from the top and work my way down?” Without hesitation, the officer looked up at her and replied, “No ma’am, please start from the bottom up.” In other words, put the lower ranking solders in front and the leaders will sit in the back.

This concept of “starting from the bottom up” and putting the needs and comfort of your people before you is a leadership lesson I learned long ago when I served as an officer in the military. You realize quickly in the military that your success, and possibly your life, depends on your people. As such, your role as a leader is to serve your team, not the other way around. This is in stark contrast to the misperception of military leaders barking out orders in a completely top down chain of command.

It’s a lesson I’ve tried to apply over the past two decades in the companies I’ve worked in and is the cornerstone of the concept I like to talk about: flipping the org chart. This means putting the leader at the bottom of the org chart to show that their responsibility is to serve their employees above them, who ultimately serve your customers. Flipping the org chart isn’t easy but here are a few tips to help you get started in 2020:

Find and hire the right people. Then get out of their way.

Throughout my career, from being a military officer to a college coach to a General Manager of a business to an HR Leader, I’ve learned that without a doubt, the # 1 driver of a leader’s success comes down to WHO is on their team. It’s always been my goal to hire people that are both smarter than me and come from different backgrounds. Finding the right person to fill each role on your team must absolutely be your top priority. Once you have that talent onboard, your role is to define clear expectations and desired outcomes. Great managers are great coaches who focus on the growth and development of their teams. Ask your people how you can support them but don’t get in their way! As Steve Jobs once said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” 

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