“I say it has to be done rapidly and it has to be bold!”

“I say it has to be done rapidly and it has to be bold!”

[caption id="attachment_10683" align="alignright" width="173"] Marilyn Jacobson[/caption]

Those words reverberated through me like a bolt of lightning when I heard them spoken to me by Marilyn Jacobson. She is the author of the recently published book Turning the Pyramid Upside Down. I immediately felt the energy and power of the words. They were spoken by a remarkable woman whom I interviewed for my interview series on leading strategies for change and improvement at 5 Minutes to Process Improvement Success.

Marilyn is a professor of management and a consultant to scores of major businesses. In the book, Marilyn shares many personal stories of how she has personally influenced many of today’s most forward-looking companies to turn the pyramid upside down to gain and secure competitive advantage in a global marketplace. The stories are fascinating and riveting.

Marilyn states the challenge and the opportunity in the introduction boldly:

“Leaders must partner and collaborate with their employees to respond to escalating complexities and inspire new thinking and discovery of fresh ideas. The continuous pressure for innovation and new technologies means involving others at all levels within the organization. Employees cannot simply be instruments to achieve leaders’ goals; they must be allowed and even encouraged to participate in the decision-making and be fully engaged in achievement of organizational goals.”

Why We Need Bold Leadership Now

I've written about the dismal track record of most change efforts in other posts here at Lead Change Group and at 5 Minutes to Process Improvement Success.  Marilyn addresses this challenge head on. She believes that “most change efforts sponsored at the top fail because the organization has become preoccupied with incremental improvement, there is uncertainty that the effort will stay the course, or the organization is already running at full capacity.” Although turning the pyramid upside down may be seen as too radical by many leaders, she believes we are now at a real impasse and bold leadership is required and the clear choice to make. She states in the book:

“To be competitive in the new global economy, the magnitude of leadership change necessary defies any possibility that it be incremental. Escalating complexity due to such factors as technology and globalization, along with the continuing need to make the numbers while becoming ever more innovative, requires a kind of organization capable of extraordinarily high levels of purpose, commitment, and synchronicity.”

And further clarifies why leaders are responsible for this impasse:

“This impasse has come about because leaders do not provide the kind of information and inclusion in decision-making that would produce thought leaders or in any way ensure an engaged workforce.”


In my work at 5 Minutes to Process Improvement Success, I am writing and speaking more frequently about the notion of self-leadership. From my perspective, we simply don’t have enough enlightened leaders at the top that are leading the change that’s needed. One response is for more of us to decide to be the change and start to influence the conversation and events to bring about change.

In my interview with Marilyn and in her book, she has a lot to say about the role of self-leadership. She shares how it can be activated and how new leaders emerge when the pyramid is turned upside down:

“Self-leadership is something that happens the most in organizations where the environment is collaborative and where employees are encouraged to continuously improve. Not only in respect to their personal performance, but whatever they can learn about the industry, the economy, the competition, the world. Understanding and living in a world of change helps them to know when there is an opportunity, and in turn they can then be a leader in seizing that opportunity.”

“In a sense, when the opportunity arises, they then emerge. Although it is also been my belief and I have seen it happen — actually it is part of a chapter in the book — that when the company, and this was one that was in major trouble at the time of a recession, some of the people that were in the group started to realize how they could make a difference and how they could help. Leaders started to emerge where before there were none or where leadership had no reason to think that they would. That changed them. The important relationships developed through a matrix structure. The matrix then put them into teams, and in teams they functioned as leaders. That was very exciting to watch.”

Learn More

I highly recommend Marilyn’s book for reading by all leaders. The stories of how she influenced one leader at a time to instigate bold change are truly inspiring.

  • More information on Marilyn and her book can be found at her website marilynjacobson.com
  • I recently interviewed Marilyn at 5 Minutes to Process Improvement Success. She shares her best strategy for improving organizations and much more in Turning the Pyramid Upside Down by Instigating Culture Change at the Top
  • Marilyn’s book is a captivating read filled with nuggets of wisdom. I captured and published all my book highlights and Tweets at Highlights and Tweets from the book: Turning the Pyramid Upside Down.


Please share your opinion and experience with rapid and bold change by leaving a comment.

  1. Should organizations be using a rapid and bold approach more frequently?
  2. How can we get more leaders to pursue a strategy of rapid and bold change?
  3. Are organizations overlooking a tremendous opportunity by not creating an environment conducive to self-leadership?
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