Turning the Top Down Approach Bottom Up

by Brad Harmon on November 10, 2010 in Leadership

Turning the Top Down Approach Bottom Up | marketplace christianity

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto/calvio

There’s a lot of advice from business gurus, books, blogs, etc. on how one should organize and operate their company.  Most tend to endorse a top down approach where decisions are made at the top of the organization and filter down through the corporate hierarchy.

The top down approach provides great efficiency and control by the head of the organization, but it can also create resentment and friction in the lower levels who feel management is forcing these decisions on them.  The opposite of this approach is where change bubbles up from the grass roots of the organization as a result of being in the trenches where the policies meet the day-to-day grind.

The struggle between these two approaches is perhaps as old as Creation itself.  As we continue our 20 Entrepreneurial Lessons from Creation series, we look at how God employed this approach in Creation and then how Jesus showed us the flip side of this same approach.

God Operates with a Top Down Approach

I Corinthians 14:33 tells us that God is not a God of confusion.  His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).  It should come as no surprise then that He would operate with a top down approach, right?  Did you catch the reference Isaiah made?

After God divided the light and darkness, He went about creating the Heaven (or the firmament).  It’s His top down approach showing up in a very real and visible way so much so that Isaiah used it to describe how much higher God’s thoughts were than our own.

6And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. 7And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. 8And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. – Genesis 1:6-8

Satan Attacks the Top Down Approach

If we fast forward to chapter three of Genesis, we’ll see that there was already some underlying resentment that I mentioned in the opening comes along with this approach.  How do we know that?  Look at how Satan, through the serpent, gets Eve to disobey God and eat of the forbidden fruit.

For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. – Genesis 3:5

It’s very tempting for us to put ourselves in a leader’s shoes and think how we see the world is how it really exists.  This is one of the fatal flaws to the bottom up approach.  Designing systems or organizations from that vantage point fail to account for all of the realities.  Yet, we, like Eve, want to be the one making those decisions because our perceptions have become our reality.

There are many horrible events that happen to good people in this world that give me pause about my Christian faith.  I don’t understand why God allows these tragedies to happen, why His plan of redemption is so restrictive, or why He doesn’t reveal Himself to us in a more concrete manner.

It causes a lot of friction at time in the trenches where I am trying to put His principles to work in my day-to-day life.  It’s tempting to say God does not exist, or if He doesn’t then He just doesn’t care.  Many have resigned themselves to that conclusion.  For me, I remind myself that the view from my trench is not the full picture God has from the top.

Jesus Turned the Top Down Approach Bottom Up

When God did choose to manifest Himself in a more concrete fashion through Jesus Christ, He taught us that this top down approach only works when you view it from the bottom up.  So many entrepreneurs forget this when setting up and operating their companies.

We tend to think of our organizational structure in the traditional pyramid shape with us on the top.  The truth is that we are looking at it upside down.  As an entrepreneur, you are the foundation that God uses to build your business.

13Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. 14If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. 16Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. – John 13:13-16

Jesus talked about being a servant leader throughout His ministry, but, more importantly, He demonstrated it throughout His ministry.  Think about it.  The top down Creator of the world made Himself flesh and washed the feet of His creation.  He wasn’t afraid to roll up His sleeves and get in the trenches.

Turning Your Top Down Approach Bottom Up

What does all of this mean for your business?

  • First, you should look at the top down approach as building the foundation for your business with you at the bottom of the pyramid.  You are in a position of leadership to be a servant to everyone beneath you on the traditional organizational chart.  Never forget that.
  • Second, even God has His critics.  It’s hard to be objective in the trenches.  You must be the person who sees the whole picture – the true picture.  This does not always make you, or your decisions, the most popular.
  • Third, spend more time in the trenches.  Servant leaders spend as much time as they can with their people sharing their burdens.  It’s only by getting your hands dirty that you can know your decisions are making the desired impact throughout your organization.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

David Rupert November 10, 2010 at 12:51 pm

“Power to the People” sounds great, until chaos wrecks the house. We need leadership that is strong and decisive. We also need leadership that is compassionate and understanding.

Leaders need to be strong in their roles — that’s who we look too. But that doesn’t mean a strong-fisted approach.

I love how you broke this down! Great article. Look for it to be featured at the High Calling!


Brad Harmon November 10, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Thanks David. I appreciate the exposure for the site.


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