Posted by: healingtheworkplace | March 31, 2012

Tribes Change Organizations from the Bottom Up

Hello there! 

I’ve always believed that organizational change, real change, must come from the top.  Recently I was engaged in a conversation, with two friends, about the need for widespread organizational change.

Both of these friends were insistent that I should focus my efforts on educating & influencing top management…because change can only come from the “top”.

From the “old” paradigm point of view this makes perfect sense…the old paradigm in which management controls information and has all the power.

But a new paradigm is evolving and in this new paradigm we all have the potential to lead change in our organizations.

Now, I’ve always believed that everyone is a leader or has the potential to be a leader. In large part leadership is situational and sometimes we don’t have a choice but to step up or step forward, despite our reservations.

And, most of the time we have reservations about stepping up because it can be risky. We may lose our jobs. Or at the very least we may fail and we may lose our credibility.

Where does this outdated thinking come from?

According to author Seth Godin most of us are “stuck in industries that not only avoid change but actively fight it.” Sound familiar? He goes on to say that we are also, “stuck in fear of what our boss will say, stuck because we’re afraid we’ll get into trouble.”

Seth Godin writes that, “Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead.” He also says, “If you are not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential”

If you are like me you probably like the status quo! The status quo is what we know and what we are comfortable with. We may not like the workplace. We may be tired of being bullied, or being kept in the dark, or having our best ideas stolen, but we keep quiet because the status quo is familiar and to change the status quo requires us to step up and lead.

It’s not easy. I know because I’ve worked in organizations that were unhealthy and I’ve kept my mouth shut. By unhealthy I mean organizations where abusive behavior is condoned.

These are often organizations in which leaders publically say one thing “We value respect!” and privately do the opposite. Formal leaders in these organizations try and control what people say and do, and they do this out of fear.

So, I was interested in what Seth Godin had to say about “tribes” and how one person can make a difference.  All it takes is one person with a vision and the courage to take action.  Because when you have a vision and share that vision with others AND provide ways for people to join you in achieving that vision then you can lead from the bottom up.  And if what you are doing is important to other people then they will join you.



  1. I’ve been in situations where suggested change by employees was not welcome because management felt if its not broke don’t fix it. In this case what they didn’t acknowledge is the length of time and person power it was taking to process was slowing down information flow for others to do their jobs. The staff made changes without telling management and later went to them to show the proven results. It impacted two departments making their jobs much easier and management was unable to find fault with the results. I would think bottom up leadership provided out of frustration to get the job done right can lead to losing great employees unless acknowledged and rewarded in some way.

    • Hi BjK! Thanks for the example of bottom up change! Did management see this as a positive move? You are right about the need for acknowledgement and recognition. Sometimes the reward is knowing that you’ve done something that made a difference BUT if employees don’t get formally recognized for the results of their work then I could see them leaving the organization. Change can start anywhere in the organization but the formal leader(s) have a critical role to play. Talk soon?
      Cheers, Lesley

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