The art of leadership has long been dominated by individuals bearing the title of CEO, executive, or manager, who typically perform a myriad of tasks and make countless decisions to keep their organizations afloat. This conventional understanding of leadership, however, is gradually being overshadowed by a revolutionary concept that emphasizes not the “doing” but the “being.” This idea posits that the primary role of leaders is not to do anything but rather to serve as a support system for their people.
Think of it this way: CEOs, executives, middle management, and front-line teams are all leaders, and their main job is to tell their teams, “I’m here to support you.” This paradigm shift has the power to completely transform the ownership mindset of teams. The question that arises then is: Should leadership be top-down or bottom-up?
The answer lies in an employee-centric approach. By making teams feel supported, leaders can foster an environment that encourages ownership. When employees are allowed to take the initiative and feel cared for, they become more forthright, more caring themselves, and more driven towards the company’s success.
A profound example of this leadership philosophy can be observed in the approach of Ken Hicks, the former CEO of Foot Locker and current President, Chairman & CEO of Academy Sports and Outdoors, Inc. Known for his ‘quiet CEO’ approach, Hicks proves that effective leadership does not have to be loud or in-your-face.
Hicks believes in supporting the development of his teams so that they have the right tools and skills to excel at their work. This approach also includes empowering them with the autonomy to get things done, thus fostering a work culture that is rooted in trust, respect, and mutual growth.
Hicks champions the idea that leaders should incorporate less of their title and more of their influence in the management of the company. In his view, making people feel important is a crucial aspect of leadership because when employees are treated as valuable assets, they tend to act and perform accordingly.
In Hicks’ words, “The overarching theme of my leadership approach is that it’s not about the leader; it’s about the people.” This statement beautifully sums up the core of his leadership philosophy. He continues, “I tell people all the time that I don’t actually do anything. My job is to make sure we have the right people with good direction, plans, and resources, but it’s the people who do it. They’re the ones who drive our business. If I don’t show up for a day, the company will still move along fine. Leaders need to understand that the people are the ones that really make things happen.”
This highlights the essential truth that while leaders may set the direction, provide resources, and build a conducive environment, it is ultimately the team that propels the company forward. A leader’s job, therefore, is not to “do” in the traditional sense but to facilitate an environment where their people can do their best work. They serve as the bedrock on which their teams can grow, learn, and take ownership of their work.
Today’s leadership is not about commanding or controlling but about enabling and supporting. It’s about realizing that the real power lies in the hands of the people, and the role of the leader is to foster this power for the collective success of the organization. Leaders, it’s time to rethink your role: it’s not to do anything; it’s to empower everything.
Ready to make this shift? Let’s talk.
Question – Are we driving action items or steps here?
Possible reflection process – asking “Is your leadership style top down or bottom up?” How do you communicate your bottom up leadership style and do your team members know you work for them versus they work for you because your the boss?