Cascade: a process whereby something, typically knowledge, is successively passed on.
We all know the model of the charismatic leader (eg Steve Jobs) who has a powerful vision and, almost messianically, is able to both engage and align everyone in their organisation around this so powerfully that they all move powerfully and in the same direction and quickly align around how to achieve it.
However, this type of “top-down” leadership is increasingly shown to be too simplistic and often far less effective than it may once have been.
So, what method can you use instead that is shown to be effective?Slow down to speed up later
The starting point for Cascading Leadership is simple, to slow down.
I love and encourage the adage “slow down to speed up later”. Relationships are still one of the most powerful tools for business (and life!), and trust takes time to build, so slow down and take time, as once trust is deeply held, speed of decision and action is faster.
How this often shows up in practice if where a CEO or other senior leader approaches me as they are ready, even hungry to lead transformative change in their organisation. They often have a clear idea as to their vision and typically want to launch it fast, so they ask:
“How should I best engage people around my vision for change?”
The first action, then, is to position the value of “slow down to speed up later” and ask for their trust around that. It is key to have them understand and trust that this will work, and at the same time trust is built over time step by step, so this in itself is iterative (as is the whole process of Cascading Leadership).
Which comes first, to Engage or to Align?
Having gained some space from the leader to slow down and not immediately look to engage everyone around their vision for change, what comes next?
Before looking at that, let us first explore whether, in leading change, one should first look to Engage people around a vision for change, or instead first look to create Alignment around it?
Let me here challenge the orthodoxy of looking to Engage people around change as a first step and instead say that, in this method, the answer is to iterate this repeatedly so that there is no “what to do first”, but a virtuous circle of engage, align, engage, align repetitively, each iteration deepening both elements and building more and more trust in the overall organisation for those within it as they truly feel part of the vision.
The graphic shown here illustrates this iterative nature.