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An article “Will Any Ship Do?” written by Anthony Sharpe in New Philosopher discusses the form leadership takes in the workplace and the motives of those who seek to manage as leaders in the workplace. Anthony, “It’s something I hear more and more these days – a disconcerting trend at dinner parties. What do you do? Where do you work? Then the big one….how many people do you have under you? Many become anxious when aligning their progress and success in business to others, particularly friends and associates. We see, one by one as they are snatched from their meek existence into the management class. We watch on anxiously – will we be next? Or will we be left behind? Then comes the new house in a better school zone, the new car, the exotic holiday and the insistence we must sample the trendy but expensive restaurant downtown.
Anthony calls it “status mapping.” Further comments and behaviours can be, “How much do you earn? What college did you go to? And, today, how many social media friends do you have? It’s unashamedly status conscious, a quick way of surveying the social landscape to see where you stand.” Implicit here is that numbers count, which obviously correlates with one’s importance. Anthony, ” People, OK at least they are people, but we usually don’t bother to describe these people, or assign them roles, were more interested in head counts. Under you. One has an image of a towering figure standing victorious atop a human pyramid. A faceless human scaffold.
The idea is that what we are seeing in these examples, is from a class of people who seem to have forgotten what class is, or worse, never knew. Furthermore it’s thinking like this that makes Anthony question, “Our modern day notion of leadership in the workplace.” And so therefore why do we seek it? What is leadership exactly? And do our motives matter?” Everyone seems to be offering leadership training or talking about leadership as though it’s an end in itself. We seem to be increasingly willing to exchange meaning and balance in our work in order to manage people and attend high level meetings which confirms our desire to play a leadership role in people management. Anthony, “While it would come across a little brash to declare your explicit desire to raise your social status, dress it up as leadership and we’ll let it slide. Yet what is it that we really want? To affect a positive change in the world, or merely to lead a ship, where any ship, whatever the cargo, whoever the crew, whatever the destination will do?”
Perhaps we should take on board the notion, it is better to have people with you than under you. For example the All Black rugby captain leading his team with him rather than under him. A team is one entity, there are different roles but each is equally vital, understood and dignified. Some being creative flare, others steely resolve, or a strategic vision that guides and inspires. As theorist Simon Sinek argues, “The best leaders don’t derive their standing from official lines of authority. We follow them, not because we have to, but because we want to.” The best leaders put their body, career, reputation on the line for their team, and in doing so build genuine trust and respect. The best leaders are motivated by cause not applause. Anthony, “They don’t simply decide they want to be leaders then go looking for a ship. Great leaders emerge in context, where their skills are noticed, their application admired, and those leadership qualities cultivated over time.”
Anthony, “In contrast, a naked desire to lead without any particular goal, purpose or end in mind is a peculiar thing. Of course a few of us (myself included) have succeeded in reigning in the ego sufficiently to resist such empty temptation.” Or another view from Novel Laureate, John Harsanyi observed, “From the moment you wake you think about where you are in relation to your peers. Our natural desire to cooperate and fit in is matched only by our desire to elevate ourselves above others.”
It feels good to elevate our status. It has a survival advantage. In crude evolutionary terms, more status often means more resources and a better chance of getting one’s genes through to the next stage of the game. Anthony, “Of course we’re not merely status hungry social primates competing for likes and followers like sweet jungle berries. We’re capable of cooperation, reciprocity and even altruism.”
We are given the proposition, people constantly fret about where they stand in relation to others. Our self-worth a function of our net worth. And the more goods we can buy and command the greater the opportunity to advertise that we’ve made it. Sometimes these goods includes the people under us.
Anthony,” Our corporate culture is perhaps partly to blame. Our role models are no longer the loyal battlers of old, but highly paid corporate mercenaries skilled in the art of change management and hit and run corporate restructuring. Yet while we’re all striving to be master and commander of our own dingy, the social distance between us continues to widen. The ship of our collective political consciousness, sits ever lower in the water and we’re less able to respond decisively as one to the critical issues of the day.”
These ideas prompt us to think about how we place value in the way we live our lives. The notion that we should claw our way into a leadership role and then curry the belief we have made it, demonstrated by increasing our collection of tangible assets and ability to spend money in an unrestrained fashion, needs to be examined. Is it a numbers game? Everything valued by the numbers of things that we have and the number of individuals that we have some sort of control over. Or is it better to believe if we seek engagement with those activities that please and inspire us then value our friends not by their status and perceived power that they may have over others but by their personal qualities, then we have found a better way to demonstrate leadership?
Bring people with you. Inspire them through demonstrating your interest in them. Show them through kindness and dignity you can sail your own boat in such a way that others will want to follow your course. This model is the new way to lead. Authoritarian methods belong in the past. Applied authentically, this form of leadership will provide the wind for your sails and allow you to navigate with ease in any direction you choose.