• News
  • Columns
  • Interviews
  • BW Communities
  • Events
  • BW TV
  • Subscribe to Print

Srinath Sridharan

Independent markets commentator. Media columnist. Board member. Corporate & Startup Advisor / Mentor. CEO coach. Strategic counsel for 25 years, with leading corporates across diverse sectors including automobile, e-commerce, advertising, consumer and financial services. Works with leaders in enabling transformation of organisations which have complexities of rapid-scale-up, talent-culture conflict, generational-change of promoters / key leadership, M&A cultural issues, issues of business scale & size. Understands & ideates on intersection of BFSI, digital, ‘contextual-finance’, consumer, mobility, GEMZ (Gig Economy, Millennials, gen Z), ESG. Well-versed with contours of governance, board-level strategic expectations, regulations & nuances across BFSI & associated stakeholder value-chain, challenges of organisational redesign and related business, culture & communication imperatives.

More From The Author >>
BW Businessworld

Does Leadership Start From The Top?

Leaders should lead by example and show the behaviour they want to see in their employees. This means demonstrating the values and behaviours that are important to the organisation, such as honesty, integrity, and accountability

Photo Credit : Shutterstock


“Significant change only occurs when it is driven from the top.”

“Nothing will happen without top management buy-in.” – Peter Senge

How often have you heard yourself say something similar? To state that Leadership starts from the top is fine. However, it does not mean that it only begins from the top. Obviously for many strategic change initiatives, one needs top leadership sponsorship to succeed. The popular prevalent notion that most initiatives must begin from the top has pushed almost everything upwards – an impossible upward delegation.

Speak to any CEO and you will hear laments of their woes of the numerous ceremonial meetings and instances, when she is expected to express support for an initiative, especially requested by a direct report to get organisation-wide commitment. It is paradoxical that in an age of empowerment, we expect the CEO alone to hold the baton for transformational change.

One cannot dispute that not all initiatives begin with top management sponsorship, but having top management support does greatly increase the likelihood of the initiative's success. In some cases, initiatives may originate from lower levels of the organisation, such as departmental or team-level initiatives – an initiative on safety at the workplace. These initiatives may gain momentum and support from peers and stakeholders within the organisation, eventually reaching the attention of top management.

Initiatives can come from all levels of management. From the Executive Committee, they may include a new strategic plan for the organisation, introducing a new product line or service, expanding the company's operations into new markets or geographies, designing a new organisational culture. Middle management initiatives may include streamlining processes and workflows to increase efficiency, launching a new marketing campaign or advertising strategy, developing, and implementing a new employee training programme, introducing new cost-saving measures or revenue-generating initiatives, improving customer service by implementing new policies or procedures.

At the customer-facing level, these may include developing and implementing new safety procedures or protocols, implementing new technology solutions to improve productivity or customer service, developing, and implementing a new sustainability initiative or corporate social responsibility programme, launching a new employee engagement programme or wellness initiative, improving workplace diversity and inclusion through new policies or programmes.

Peter Senge in an article, The Leadership of Profound Change, discussed what he called the Myth of the Hero-CEO. He argued that the idealisation of great leadership leads to an endless search for heroic figures who can come to our rescue of recalcitrant, non-competitive institutions. His argument was that it is a kind of cultural addiction, with a ‘new hero’ arriving and focussing on short-term performance (cost cutting, including Layoffs, etc.), while the issue of long-term investments ‘in developing collective capacities to innovate’ is ignored, thereby ensuring mediocre results. Shareholders will continue to heap more pressure on short-term quarterly returns.

*Benefits of Top management support

However, initiatives that have top management sponsorship from the outset are often better positioned to succeed. This is because top management support can provide several benefits, including:

Organisational buy-in: When top management supports an initiative, it sends a message to the rest of the organisation that the initiative is important. This can help generate buy-in from other stakeholders and increase the likelihood of success.

Access to resources: Top management sponsorship can provide access to resources such as funding, talent, external network, amplifying communication, and technology that may be needed to successfully execute the initiative.

*Developing Manager - Leader

Every manager is a ‘Leader-CEO’ at her role-level and must demonstrate Leadership behaviours. The best of organisations use the tool of developing their managers into leaders, across organisations. Initiatives are like ‘boats floating on water’, but the real work of leadership is in working with the waters. This is the soft side of leadership which is the harder aspect. These include:

Clear Communication: Leaders need to communicate clearly and effectively to ensure that their vision, mission, and goals are understood by everyone in the organisation. They should use various communication channels to reach all levels of the organisation, including email, newsletters, town hall meetings, and one-on-one conversations.

Empowerment: Leaders should empower employees at all levels to make decisions and take ownership of their work. This means giving them the tools, resources, and authority they need, to do their jobs effectively and providing them with ongoing feedback and support.

Collaboration: Leaders should encourage collaboration and teamwork across all levels of the organisation. This can be achieved by creating cross-functional teams, promoting open communication channels, and creating a culture of mutual respect and trust.

Leading by example: Leaders should lead by example and show the behaviour they want to see in their employees. This means demonstrating the values and behaviours that are important to the organisation, such as honesty, integrity, and accountability.

Continuous Learning: Leaders should encourage continuous learning and development across all levels of the organisation. This can be achieved by providing training and development opportunities, creating a culture of curiosity and innovation, and encouraging employees to take risks and learn from their mistakes.

Recognition and rewards: Leaders should recognise and reward employees at all levels for their achievements and contributions to the organisation. This can be achieved by creating a formal recognition programme, providing public recognition, and offering incentives such as bonuses, promotions, and additional opportunities for growth and development.

Above all else, leaders ensure that they take turns to ‘take out the garbage’. They are comfortable with lifting the workload as an equal member, demonstrating humility in the process. Such one per cent initiative also helps build 100 per cent engaged teams. That’s what winning leadership is all about.

Tags assigned to this article: