What is Inverted Pyramid Leadership?

Portrait of Alec Ortega

Alec Ortega

August 8, 2021

Flip your organizational chart upside down

The upside-down pyramid, also known as the upside-down triangle, or inverted leadership pyramid, is more accurately described as a conceptual diagram for what we call "servant leadership." It's based on the idea that those at the top are responsible for serving those below them to ensure their success.

Servant leadership is a type of leadership style that has been gaining popularity. It was initially coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in the 1970s and defined as "the servant-leader is one who first helps others succeed, then leads."

The upside-down pyramid illustrates this idea very well because leaders at the top must serve those below them so they can be successful right off the bat. As you move up the inverted pyramid, your responsibility to those under your increases. Meaning you need to ensure success for all those beneath you before yourself or anyone else.

Why an upside-down pyramid is better than a traditional organizational structure

The upside-down hierarchical pyramid is a model that fosters success by being a servant to those below you. It helps to create an environment where there is mutual accountability at all levels while also promoting the importance of what's happening at the organization's base. The upside-down organizational structure can be found in organizations that embrace this belief system and significant companies such as Google and Nike.

There are many benefits to upside-down pyramids. First, they promote the importance of what's happening at the base, which is often overlooked in traditional organizational structures. Where it can be easy for those at the top to think that they're doing all of the work while being oblivious to what's going on below them - an upside-down organizational pyramid helps minimize this tendency.

How to create one in your company

If you're interested in creating an upside-down organizational pyramid, it can be done by first looking at what's happening at the base. Then, if any problems are going on with those working below your position, it may be best to work from the foundation up and help others before yourself or anyone else.

If there are few problems at the base, but you're struggling to make an impact or see any significant progress with those above your position, then it may be best to work from the top down and help others before yourself.

All new hires should be aware of what is expected of them once they start. Employees should be taught about servant leadership - how they can serve those below them by helping ensure success for everyone involved. It's also important for leaders at the very top or middle level to take time every week and not just once a year for reflection so they can understand where improvements must be made.

The benefits of the upside-down pyramid

The upside-down pyramid management model is not a quick fix. It's not an overnight solution that will magically increase productivity and innovation within your company. To get the most out of this new leadership style, it takes time to embed into a culture - but once it does, you'll see many benefits, including increased employee happiness and productivity.

A culture of trust, autonomy, and accountability

When you empower employees to own success, a sense of ownership and autonomy is instilled within teams. When teams are empowered to make business decisions and share authority, they can hold their destiny and work on their terms. Some might see this as a considerable risk, but it can skyrocket your efficiency when paired with transparent accountability. As long as teams are held accountable for the impact they've been assigned to make, it shouldn't matter how, where, or when your employees work. In a world where remote work is increasingly more popular, this can help many organizations achieve results at scale.

Increased innovation and creativity

The upside-down pyramid management model is ideal for fostering innovation and creativity. When you empower employees to own their results, they're more likely to take risks and try new things. Each employee has an individual responsibility that drives them forward that can't happen without autonomy over their work.

In a traditional org chart, creativity may be limited to the executives that make decisions. However, in an organization filled with servant leaders, empowered employees are encouraged to replace long timelines with fast iteration. By reducing the length of an iteration cycle, you reduce the amount of time to discover new business opportunities or the boundaries of your value proposition.

Increase in employee satisfaction/happiness

Individuals feel they have a voice within the company. They are also more fulfilled when given opportunities to grow, make decisions on how their work is done, and contribute to organizational goals. When you make employee empowerment a priority, entry-level employees learn new skills faster and gain the ability to become leaders themselves.

Why the traditional hierarchical model is outdated and inefficient 

Today, start-ups aren't the only organizations that practice new ways of working. With the COVID pandemic, hundreds of thousands of employees and managers needed to learn new ways of working. Employees have new expectations of how they want to work. Employees increasingly want to work on their terms, how they want and where they want. At the same time, businesses have still need to utilize their resources and solve customer problems effectively.

Traditional business models don't allow the flexibility needed to achieve the speed of iteration at scale in this new world by withholding decision-making from ground-level teams, organizations silo data, and information that could otherwise benefit new initiatives.

The future of business management

Servant leadership is a powerful concept, and the upside-down pyramid diagram illustrates it well. It’s important to note that the idea of servant leadership isn't just for leaders, though - everyone must serve those below them to ensure their success. So get started with Commonality today to start making a measurable impact at scale!

First published Aug 8, 2021, 7:19 PM, updated August 11, 2021

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