Two Levels Up

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership


I hear a lot of discussion these days about keeping employees engaged in the workplace. Let me explain what employee engagement has to do with “two levels up.”

We know, from the research by Daniel Pink and others, that knowledge workers require three things to be fully engaged at work: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Before we can give control away to employees (autonomy), we have to be confident that they have technical competency (they have the tools and training to do their assignments — Mastery) and clarity of values and vision (purpose). It is clarity of vision (and mission, of course) that concerns me today. My responsibility


as a leader, is to be sure that the vision and mission are clearly understood by all employees involved.

2 Levels Above Me

My responsibility as an employee is to be sure that I understand the mission at least two levels above me. The reason for this should be fairly obvious. If I am to have autonomy — make decisions on my own — then I had better understand the values, vision and mission of our organization. It is critical to have this knowledge so that when confronted with an unexpected situation, I am able to decide as closely as possible to how my leader would decide.

Another reason for choosing two levels above me is that one of my more important “jobs” is to make my leader’s life easier. To make her “look good.” To do that, I need to know what her boss expects of her with regard to the mission to be accomplished.


I look at this as being the equivalent of the statement that we should “know what our customer’s customer needs.” Similarly, it is important for me to know what my boss’s boss expects of the team.

As an owner or CEO, how am I doing at making sure that we can give our employees autonomy, that is, give control away? And, as an employee, how am I doing making sure I’m clear on the vision and mission at least two levels above me?