Over the past several months I have been researching different forms of self-employment or “side-hustles” for a project I am working on. Routinely, I would come across the warning that a particular business is a pyramid scheme. It got me thinking about how leadership chains work in many organizations and if their structure resembles that of a pyramid scheme.

This pyramid scheme label is attached to many home-based businesses and especially several direct selling companies and means that in order to be profitable you have to build a down-line. If you were to start a business selling t-shirts you make in your garage, you make profit from each. The more you sell, the more you make. If your marketing and business acumen are good enough, you could earn a living on your own. If this same model was a pyramid scheme, you would make much less on the sales of the shirts because a large portion of your profits go to those who are levels above you. Because of this, you would not be physically able to sell enough on your own to make a living. In order to be successful, you would have to recruit a large team and reap profits from their sales. The only way to be successful is to get there on the backs of others.

I think this transitions into my thoughts on leadership trends quite seamlessly. Most leaders I have worked with are completely focused on taking care of their teams. Sometimes they accomplish this through driving the mission and sometimes it is through knocking down roadblocks in the path of their team. Then there are those who will do whatever it takes to get that promotion. They take claim for the efforts of others and will take on every new tasker the boss puts out there. They are like the pyramid schemers who are profiting off of the sweat and toils of those on the team.

Obviously, no one wants to be this person; however, some of us are and may not even know it. I know there was a point where I was. As a new NCOIC, I was extremely motivated to do big things and conquer the world. Every new thing that came down the pipe, I would jump on it. The problem is that I was increasing the workload of my team pushing them to do things outside of our primary gig. Now, I wasn’t gunning for the next stripe, I was just trying to show how great my team was and that I was a good leader. Ironically, we looked bad because we were haphazardly doing everything and they were getting burned out and frustrated with me.

We have all had those bosses that would “delegate” some task they volunteered for down onto a teammate and it seemed to never end. If it came out successful, no praise was delivered; however, if it failed, all eyes were on you. Basically, they are using their team to get ahead and doing very little on their own.

How do you fix this if you are one of these leaders or prevent yourself from getting there? Never forget where you come from and who works for you. If we are in a supervisory role, we should be doing a portion of the work that our team is. For example, if their job is to maintain a network server, we should be hands-on enough to know how to do 50% of what they do on a daily basis so we could step in for them if they need a break. Something as technical as this may not be in your wheelhouse; however, there are aspects of the job, like admin duties or additional duties, you could take on. If you are not able or willing to do this, then that is something you need to work on within yourself.

We should be able to do at least 50% of the tasks and responsibilities of those in the next level down from us and about 20% of the level beneath them. Being involved like this builds trust from our teams and lets them know we are committed to the mission and not too good to do what they are doing. We are not in leadership roles to reap the benefits of those on our teams. We are in leadership roles to serve those on our teams. We should be not be taking from their pots; rather, be seeking ways to add to them from our vast array of experiences and lessons learned.

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