Grassroots Leadership: Fast Company asked Steve Miller to describe his agenda for becoming a grassroots leader.
1) Grassroots leadership can't be a cult of personality.
This approach isn't about me. It's about simple, well-taught marketing concepts - combined with a strong process design - that enable frontline employees to think like businesspeople. Top executives and frontline people learn to work together. My six direct reports differ widely in personality, and most of them would never have chosen grassroots leadership on their own. Yet today, all are effective in this mode, and all would choose it over the old approach.
2) A leader has to rechannel his ego.
Let's face it: There's no senior manager who doesn't have a good-sized ego. But you have to shift it so that you're not the hero and so that you don't need to be the hero. The heroes are the people you've been teaching. You're proud of them, and you get your gratification from their success.
3) A leader is always teaching.
Everything we do is a teaching opportunity. For instance, our teams do community service projects - building a playground or painting a school. Before we start, I always ask, "Why are we here?" In other words, what's the business reason for us to do this? It comes down to our customers. The first reason they do business with us is the most traditional: location. The second reason they come to us: They're observing our patterns of behavior, and they see that Shell is a company they can trust to do the right thing.
4) Grassroots leadership isn't just about "empowerment" or listening to "the little people."
Most executives don't get it at first. They see grassroots leadership as a populist fad. But there are compelling business reasons to go this route. First, you reach around the bureaucrats in the middle. Second, senior management gets an unfiltered picture of what's going on. Third, the energy and commitment of the frontline people inspire people in middle and upper management who have become jaded.
5) Don't neglect the results.
The whole point of the exercise is to improve the performance of the organization. So while you're concentrating on clearer communication, better understanding, and greater cohesion, pay attention to the bottom-line results. They still drive the business.
A version of this article appeared in the April/May 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.