We concentrate far too much on leadership qualities and how leaders achieve great results rather than concentrating on the followers – who are the actual ‘do’ers – and what enables them to deliver the best results. It’s like we have a cult around the figurehead and totally undervalue the team. We talk about self-management but we still venerate the leader who ‘allows’ the team to be empowered.
Throughout the majority of human evolution we lived in semi-nomadic hunter gatherer tribes. Studies of these types of communities in today’s world shows that they tend to have very fluid leadership structures. The group chooses the leader they wish to have for a particular activity and they will choose a different leader for another activity. For example, they may choose one leader for hunting and another for gathering medicinal herbs. Any person who starts to get ideas above their station is brought down through such mechanisms as gossip, disobedience and (in extreme circumstances) murder.
In today’s corporate world people don’t get to choose their managers. They are chosen by the higher level managers and imposed on people. One of the main causes of stress in the workplace is difficulties in the relationship with a person’s direct line manager and given that many of the mechanisms for bringing a leader back down to Earth are not acceptable in today’s workplace (including murder apparantly…) it is hard to relieve the stress.
Gore-tex has chosen a different route. When they needed a new CEO in 2005 they asked people from across the company to nominate the person who they would like take the role. The person with the most nominations was made CEO.
In my organisation we have just added some more team leaders. Rather than deciding how to redistribute people between the teams and letting people know, each team member chose the line manager that they wanted. This caused raised eyebrows higher up the management chain and comments from many people about the carnage which it would lead to. What would happen if everyone wanted the same team lead? What about if nobody wanted to be in a particular person’s team? How many arguments would break out?
In reality the outcome was kind of boring… Some people had really strong opinions and others didn’t really mind. Everyone was able to have the team lead they wanted and it was sorted out quickly and painlessly. At the end of the day people are adults, not children. Why would people expect carnage?
Obviously this wasn’t complete freedom to choose as the team leaders were decided by higher level managers and not by the team members, so they got to choose between people that they personally may not have selected. However, it will be interesting to see whether having chosen their own team leader people are happier with their line management longer term. The experiment continues…