Lee Ellis on Leadership Structure


Col. Ellis shares his thoughts on collaboration and organizational structure.

How does collaborative leadership play out in your philosophy?

“I am a big believer that one person has to own a project. Admiral Hymen G. Rickover, the father of the nuclear submarine said, "If you don't have one person in charge, you don't have anybody in charge." Ultimately, there has to be somebody responsible for overseeing. There are exceptions, however, when you have a dynamic situation where there are new challenges, changes and technologies to capitalize on, someone has to be in charge. That person is responsible for making things happen and taking care of the people. Having said that, I am a big believer in collaboration built on alignment. As alignment comes, collaboration becomes possible. To get collaboration, you have to establish a community, communication and clarity, which is reached through the building of mutual trust.

“I am big on collaborative teamwork. Collaboration is essential because it indicates trust. If you have trust, you can get a lot of things done in a hurry and be very productive. I believe a leader needs to listen to others on his team. That's how I have had a successful career. I've always surrounded myself with people smarter than me.”

The leadership structure in many organizations is changing from top down to a more flat approach. How do you see this affecting leadership in those types of organizations?

“I really like the least amount of structure possible because it brings people closer to the action. Action is where things get done, and the closer you are to it, the better you understand what's going on. Better decisions can be made and better feedback can be given and received. Better feedback, means better decisions by leaders and more effective coaching for the team. The problem is, as organizations get bigger, that becomes harder to do. Figuring out ways of capitalizing on being large and minimizing the impact of bureaucracy is one of the most difficult challenges, especially in large organizations today. Moving from a purely entrepreneurial start up organization to a growing midsize, some structure is necessary. That is one of the advantages of growing- creating structure, adding preventative processes, but, you also have to keep in mind you are building layers. When there are too many layers it gets unwieldy and inefficient, leadership begins to fall by the wayside and management picks up steam.”

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