Is It Time To Get Rid Of Top-Down Supervision

Leadership is not for a select few people at the top of the organization; a healthy Organization has leaders at every level.

I hear it all the time, supervisors griping that their employees lack ownership in their work and projects. But the very same supervisors do not realize that they take actions that take ownership away from their people every day.

Hoping people take ownership is not a plan; leaders of healthy organizations implement systems and mechanisms that give ownership and eliminate mechanisms that inhibit a sense of ownership.

Read more about accountability.

Top-down systems rob people of their sense of ownership, so the more you can do to eliminate them, the better. I am not talking about monitoring data and results, as these should make the invisible visible.

The systems I am speaking about are where senior management determines what their subordinates should be doing and then holds them accountable.

I have experienced that people do their best work when they are accountable to themselves and their teammates.

When it comes to processes, adherence to the process frequently becomes the objective, as opposed to achieving the goal that the process was put in place to achieve.

It drives people crazy when the process becomes the outcome.

Edward Deming, who explored the principle of Total Quality Leadership, said that systems to monitor efficiency improved efficiency.

But processes that monitored the process caused the organization to become inefficient.

Monitoring processes, or how employees do their job, sends the message that we do not trust you.

And in the end, it drives employees away from taking ‘ownership.’

If you are clear about your intent and what employees are not allowed to do in carrying out your intent, you will drive ownership.

Read more about leading with intent.

Consider these questions:

How are you underutilizing the ideas, creativity, and passions of your mid-level managers responsible for their departments’ results?

Which monitoring systems can you hand over to mid-level managers and department heads?

What are the top-down monitoring systems in your organization? And how can you eliminate them?


What are the Four levels of Accountability Systems?

Level 1 – Chaos: People are not told what they are accountable for and therefore don’t do their jobs

Level 2 – Inefficient: People are told what they are accountable for but don’t do their jobs because of overwork or focus on the wrong things. This is most inefficient because resources are invested in monitoring, but work isn’t getting done.

Level 3 – Compliance: People understand what they are responsible for and do their work because there are systems to hold people accountable. People often feel forced into doing their jobs. This is where most organizations are and work towards, but this is top-down leadership.

Level 4 – Healthy: People are not told what to do because they have figured it out independently. And they hold themselves and their peers accountable for results with a minimum of monitoring systems. This is a highly engaged, energized, and healthy organization where people have engaged and ownership of their work.


In top-down organizations, accountability processes are designed with the idea that you, the employee, cannot hold yourself accountable for your work; therefore, your boss needs to do it for you.

In a Healthy Organization, people hold themselves and their peers to account for their performance.

Leaders in a Healthy organization are not to hold employees accountable but to help them keep themselves accountable.

Read more about organizational health.


How wonderful would it be if people did not have to attend dreaded accountability meetings? How powerful would it be if people felt safe enough to ask others, ‘Can you help me stay on track.’


This would inspire accountability and efficiency, creativity and energy.