the ceo magazine
Chris Whipple, author, A.C.T. Now or Fail!                

We have all seen the traditional organizational pyramid with the person in charge at the top.  This pyramid usually has many layers in the middle consisting of some form of management or supervision, and all the line workers at the bottom.  For some, this may be the only pyramid ever experienced.  The concern I have with the traditional pyramid is that it depicts the leader resting on top, and this is the negative perception of the leader that many employees have throughout the organization.

In the late 90s, I was introduced to a revised version of the organization pyramid.  It was turned upside-down with the leader at the bottom.  It was explained to me that the leader’s job is to support the organization.  This new pyramid was accompanied by many other requirements. In order for the leader to be brave and openly take full responsibility for the organization, he had to be confident that the correct infrastructure was in place.  In my case, the leader who introduced the upside-down pyramid utilized the structure recommended by the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.  With this infrastructure in place, he was confident that he would not only support the organization, he would produce results, and this is exactly what he did.

After years of studying the requirements of the Baldrige award and teaching others the principles associated, I realized there still might be a better way to represent the pyramid.  I always had one major concern with the upside-down pyramid.  It’s apparent just by looking at it. What would happen to the organization if something happened to the leader?  Based on how the pyramid looks, the entire organization could collapse if the leader was gone.  Finally, the answer came to me.  If the pyramid were turned on its side, this would be a much better representation of how an organization should be.  First and most obvious, the sideways pyramid looks like an arrow pointing in a particular direction.  At the front of this arrow is the leader – and he or she is leading the organization in the direction of their choice.  This is exactly what each leader should be doing for their organization.  Before reviewing the direction an organization needs to point, we will review some of the benefits of the sideways pyramid.

Each individual represented in the sideways pyramid is seen as an equal. No layer is above, or more important than another. This concept alone helps break down barriers by recognizing each individual as a necessary part of the team. This new organization structure, which recognizes contributions more than titles, can be utilized to motivate employees throughout the organization and increase communication.  This increased communication is critical to the success of any organization.  Leaders make important decisions based on the information received. In the traditional pyramid, information usually flowed better from top to bottom.  Critical information gained at lower levels often failed to make it to the leader.  While the upside-down pyramid facilitates two-way communication, there’s still a hierarchy that needs to be followed, which often causes delays. With the sideways pyramid, all employees including the leader are represented as equal, and information can flow back and forth freely when necessary. With this structure in place, communication can potentially skip layers of management when in the best interest of the organization.  

The leader who adapts the sideways pyramid has the right philosophy of how an organization should be led to obtain the best results. But in what direction should the leader guide their organization? The answer is long-term sustainability and when all employees are led in this direction, the results can be great.

In part 2 and part 3 of this article series, I will justify why long-term sustainability should be each organization's primary goal.  I will provide in-depth details on what is required by all organizations to achieve long-term sustainability and explain how to align all workers, improve teamwork and efficiencies, and obtain better financial results. 

About the Author           

Chris Whipple is the author of A.C.T. Now or Fail!, a book that provides in-depth details on how to implement these concepts and explains why each is so important. Chris can be contacted at


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