Stop Looking Up


“I can’t work in an environment where it’s a stiff hierarchy; that’s not my kind of way.”

-Steven Rodney McQueen

Sometimes there seem to be at least three ways of seeing the working world in a hierarchical organization: up, down, and sideways. If we are on top we look down. If we are in the middle we look up to our managers, down to our reports and sideways to our peers. If you work on the bottom layer then you look up. If you work someplace awesome, then there is trust in any direction you look. However, if you happen to live in the same world as the rest of use, then things are probably different. Most common, is a lack of trust.

What a weird way of looking at the world. Do people really think like this? Can we represent a model of a corporate hierarchy using the 9 cubes from the Brady Bunch?

Back to my question: do people really see the hierarchy that rigidly? Part of me wants to say “No.” People aren’t that constrained in their thinking. If you look at their behavior, you do see a lot of people looking up the hierarchy for direction. I guess that’s what hierarchy’s are there for – to direct the actions of those below.

I know liberated folks who seem able to work in an organization without looking up. To them, the entire organization is tipped on it’s side. They can go anywhere they want a do whatever needs to be done. When I was a consultant I often felt this way because I was an outsider and not part of the hierarchy. However I live in a hierarchy now, and I’ve noticed that I behave differently over time. The effect is subtle. Occasionally I catch myself waiting for a decision, deferring to the boss. I catch myself looking up.

That’s how I think of it anyway. When I’m waiting for that decision, unable act without permission, then I’m looking up.

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