Leading from Below or What Kelly and Nadler Tell Us

In the last few years, siblings of my concept of Leadership from Below have started to appear in many places. Today, I was encouraged to find the article Leading from below by James Kelly and Scott Nadler of the environmental consulting firm ECM in MIT Sloan Management Review. It turns out Kelly & Nadler’s article was published back in 2007. To them, leading from below implies fostering leadership within the ranks. While they do offer some suggestions to managers who want to take on more responsibility: things like

focus on asking what if questions, focus on influence, not control and openly discussing values not just value,

they still see innovation from the manager or CEO’s perspective – people who already are in a position to lead, even if they have a small role.

My perspective, in contrast, is bottom-up. Why wait to become a leader – just do it! I explore how people who take responsibility in fact may be more efficient leaders than those who are put in charge. I do not advocate destroying others’ leadership role, or questioning authority for its own sake. Rather, I find that the most salient way to approach any challenge is simply getting things done.

To some degree, the end justifies the means. If you think something should be done, convince those around you, and just do it. The more I started reflecting on this, the more I wished there had been a guidebook that I could have followed so I wouldn’t have made so many mistakes along the way. I didn’t really find one so I wrote one. Well, I know there might be resources out there that I haven’t considered. If so, I would greatly appreciate if you point me towards them. Throughout these blog posts, I will feature a variety of perspectives on bottom-up leadership, and share my ups and downs exploring a life that started from somewhere in the privileged middle. So, I guess it is leadership from below but not leadership from the bottom.

About Trond Arne Undheim, Ph.D.
Trond Arne Undheim is a futurist, speaker, entrepreneur and former Director of MIT Startup Exchange, based outside of Boston. He is the CEO and cofounder of Yegii, a search engine for industry professionals, providing collective intelligence. He holds a PhD on the future of work and artificial intelligence and cognition. He has accelerated four unicorns and helped launch over 50 startups. A former MIT Sloan School of Management Senior Lecturer, WPP & Oracle executive and EU National Expert, he writes for Fortune and Cognoscenti, and has been featured in print media and television. Undheim is the author of Pandemic Aftermath (2020), Disruption Games (2020) and Leadership From Below (2008). His next book is Future Tech (2021).

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