Leading From the Bottom

Posted: February 20, 2013 in Leadership
Tags: , , , , ,

Org ChartIn yesterday’s post, I reviewed Seth Godin’s book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.  One point briefly mentioned in the review is the idea of leading from the bottom.  Today I want to explore that idea more.

When Godin first discusses the idea in his book, he tells the story of when he started full-time at Spinnaker at the age of 24.  He was charged with making software games out of science fiction stories.  Nobody reported to him – no programmers, no secretaries, no staff whatsoever.  What did he do?  He started a newsletter and distributed it twice a week throughout the company talking about the opportunities, the challenges, and the successes.  One by one, people voluntarily joined the cause – even on their own free time – to be a part of what was happening.  He led from the bottom and people joined him for the journey to the point of being wildly successful beyond what many thought possible with few resources allocated.

I think back to a couple of times in the past year when there were stories in the news that caused a grassroots reaction from others via social media.  There was the young 20-something lady who started a campaign against a major bank when they announced a jump in fees.  The movement caught on and in a matter of days the national bank reversed its decision.  That lady had no position of authority.  She had passion and a Facebook page.  Just this past week the Kentucky bourbon distillery Maker’s Mark had to change its recent decision to lower the alcohol content in its signature product after the public outcry regarding its plans to do so.  Opponents had no authority over the company other than as fans and customers, but that was enough.  They led from the bottom.

Looking around at people in my life, I see others who voluntarily take on mountains to climb because they care and because they think they can make a difference one day or one person at a time.  They don’t wait for permission.  They don’t sit back and say “I’m only one person; what can I do?”  They don’t get stuck in some endless period of analysis paralysis.  They begin one step at a time doing something, and others join them in the cause because others have been wanting the same thing, but needed a leader to forge the path.

One of the reasons my schedule stays full is due to the fact that I think we are put on this earth to make a difference, and that as long as we have life and breath we can and should be doing what we can to impact others in meaningful ways.  I believe that is true for you as well, although, you’ll have to decide what those ways are for yourself.

At work, I have nobody that reports to me.  I may never have direct reports at my company.  I’m fine with that.  I still know I have the opportunity to make a positive difference.  I can impact individuals and even the entire company regarding how we communicate internally.  Outside of work, I have several personal passions – mostly faith-related – that drive me to do things weekly because I think they are the right thing to do, and because the idea of just living for myself outside of work seems a waste and, in fact, offensive to me.  Nobody “reports” to me outside of work, either (except, perhaps, my dog), but I’m fine with that, too.  I can still live each day faithful to who I am called to be in confidence that it will be a life lived imperfectly, but genuinely for the One who gave it to me.

What passions do you have for change?  Where do you want to make a difference?  Whether you have any positional authority or not, whether anyone reports to you at work or outside of work, your passion and example of doing something to lead can be just the spark that others around you need to join your cause and to make a difference.

Don’t be afraid to lead from the bottom.

  1. Eric says:

    Really a great reminder. Sometimes it’s easy to feel like an ant who can’t really change anything. But what’s interesting is that Scripture tells us to consider the ant as an example of diligence and hard work. Maybe being an ant isn’t so bad after all. Ultimately I think it’s a trust that God will take these ant-like endeavors and use them for his glory, regardless of how big or small they seem.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing Jeff. I needed the encouragement and the challenge today.

  2. BrentJ says:

    Really cool. Kind of like the difference between “Get a following/group, then go somewhere” vs “Go somewhere and get a following along the way”.

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