Top-Down Leadership is pretty much gone today because it simply doesn’t work.

This can be an unpopular message to bring to leaders, particularly those who are north of 50 years of age. On the other hand, those much younger who practice agility leadership welcome it. In fact, of the fastest growing organizations in the U.S. today most are being run by a new breed of leaders who prefer to throw out conventional wisdom and drive it with an 8-week planning cycle to let their Team decide if they need more funding or what they want to change immediately.

This is uncustomary in a huge number of traditional companies–– the majority of which are the largest in their markets right now. But this should not comfort larger organizations. If you doubt this is true consider that only 60 of Fortune 500 firms remain that were listed in 1955. That’s a 12% survival rate. We have all either watched or learned first hand, competitive landscapes can change overnight and force major shifts in leadership. 20 years ago, if I had told you two startups would control the majority share of market media would you have believed me? But indeed today, Facebook and Google are those two companies that we’re both founded in 1998, and the rest is history.

How did this happen? Over many years of executive consulting I have found there are four keys to driving organizational health and growth:

  1. Own a vision that is so well differentiated and unique that no one can match it
  2. Create a strategy that perfectly aligns everything your organization does best with what your customers want most
  3. Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) that let you look forward and project growth based upon a success criteria that is formed out of your strategy
  4. Make all funding decisions, large or small, based upon whether it will advance the three keys above

Trying to make a major cultural shift in an organization without first doing a cultural shift with one “Pilot Team” is generally a recipe for disaster. What is first required for a successful culture and strategy shift is a strong leader who can keep the pilot on track and protect those people who are participating in it. The reason is that whenever new ideas and practices are introduced they can easily be perceived in a negative context and because people often resist and fear change.

Sadly, much of this apprehension is well deserved having watched so many strategic planning shifts fail because they were poorly implemented. Once you have proven a new strategy will work in a pilot program it is infinitely easier to win adoption throughout the organization with the momentum of success behind it. The art of quick wins is something that I talk and write about because I have found that several quick wins will win over even the most dug in teams.

Success is always welcomed so taking several small steps that each lead to a successful outcome is an excellent way to build team confidence versus trying to change the entire organization in one quick shift. That rarely works.