Who Needs A Leader?

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June 16, 2015 by Mike Lyles

How many of you have played the game “follow the leader” as a child?  We gathered as children and we designated just one as the leader and then everyone else was to follow the leader and trust their judgment to not only keep them safe but to also enjoy the game.

Imagine how difficult the game would have been if it had been called “follow each other”. Instead of a single file line behind one person making decisions for the team, you’d have a whole field of kids standing side by side and going in every direction.  It would not be long before the game would bore everyone and a new game would have to be played to keep the attention and excitement of the crowd.

At the time I am writing this article, one of the latest news reports in the United States is around Zappos.  The company has moved to a new organizational structure called Holacracy (www.holacracy.org), in which managers have been removed and the team is empowered to work together.  Zappos CEO, Tony Hseih is quoted as saying, “Think of every employee as a mini entrepreneur.  Which is not really for everybody; some people like to be told the 10 things to do”.  He’s absolutely right.  In fact, it was proven this week as 14% of the staff accepted a buy-out to leave the organization because they didn’t like the new structure.

I’m honestly surprised that it was only 14%, because I would think many of us want to have some direction and guidance.  In fact, even if you’re a CEO, you look for direction from your board members, customers, and supporters.

Why is this structure so difficult for some to deal with?  The reason is that it’s human nature to be led. When we are born, we immediately inherit parents who will guide us, protect us, and teach us how to deal with and survive in the world.

We then go to school, and experience teachers, counsellors, and coaches that provide guidance and direction for our education.  Imagine how we would have learned as children had we gone to school and was told “work together, but we are not going to tell you what to work on, nor are we going to give you homework or exercises to learn”.

As we grow up, we experience sports, and in part of that experience, we notice that there is a coach there to guide the team. I’ve heard the following quote many times through the years: “players win games, but coaches win championships”. We can all play well together.  It’s quite possible that we can even be productive and successful. But to experience true success beyond all opportunities takes having a coach and a leader there to drive toward the goals.

When I examine the holacracy practice, I begin to wonder why some people accept it and some people cannot. Here is what I’m thinking:

The Leaderless

Some people do not want to answer to authority. They feel independent and want to have control over their responsibilities and their outcomes.

The Leader Needers

Some people require that leadership, the push to keep them going. They seek guidance to send them in the right direction and drive them to success. Without it, they would simply sit and wait for the next suggestion or command.

If you’re a believer of the “Leaderless” theory, then you must find the best approach to work collaboratively with your team to ensure the responsibilities are met without someone in the front driving the direction. It is important that everyone understand the roles of the team.

For the “Leader Needers”, if you are the leader in front, you have a great responsibility which can not only affect your life, but the lives of others. I would assume that many people are starving for direction in their successes. If you are focused on winning with the team collaboratively (similar to the leaderless theory) while still driving the decisions and directions of the team, you can be part of something amazing.

For the reality check, It’s very likely that we live in a society where leaders are becoming soft. They are not accepting their position and driving the team aggressively with authority. I challenge the leaders who are not taking the responsibility and either do not want the role (maybe it was given to them against their wishes) or they are not dedicating themselves to being successful.  If you’re in this position, maybe it’s best for you to give someone else a chance to take the reigns of the team. If you’ve ever seen birds flying in a “V” formation, keep in mind that the front bird is hardly ever consistently the same. Sometimes they fall back and let another take the lead for a while. You will earn much more respect by recognizing that a change is needed than to just keep trying with no success.

Which best fits your idea of a high performing team? Could you operate in either? I would like to hear your inputs on which one you would feel most comfortable working within, and the reasons behind your decision.

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