I’ve been reading Birth of the Chaordic Age by Dee Hock. It was recommended to me by Jud Valeski, whom we interviewed on StartupCTO.io a few months ago.
The following passage spoke to something I’ve been trying to articulate about leadership since starting my startup journey a decade ago. It’s a 5 minute read, but is worth it:
Leader presumes follower. Follower presumes choice. One who is coerced to the purposes, objectives, or preferences of another is not a follower in any true sense of the word, but an object of manipulation. Nor is the relationship materially altered if both parties voluntarily accept the dominance of one by the other. A true leader cannot be bound to lead. A true follower cannot be bound to follow. The moment they are bound they are no longer leader or follower. If the behavior of either is compelled, whether by force, economic necessity, or contractual arrangement, the relationship is altered to one of superior/subordinate, manager/employee, master/servant, or owner/slave. All such relationships are materially different from leader/follower.
Induced behavior is the essence of leader-follower. Compelled behavior is the essence of all the others. Where behavior is compelled, there lies tyranny, however benign. Mere behavior is induced, there lies leadership, however powerful. Leadership does not imply constructive, ethical, open conduct. It is entirely possible to induce destructive, malign, devious behavior and to do so by corrupt means. Therefore, a clear, meaningful purpose and compelling ethical principles evoked from all participants should be the essence of every relationship, and every institution.
A compelling question is how to ensure that those who lead are constructive, ethical, open, and honest. The answer is to follow those who will behave in that manner. It comes down to both the individual and collective sense of where and how people choose to be led. In a very real sense, followers lead by choosing where to be led. Where a community will be led is inseparable from the conscious, shared values and beliefs of the individuals of which it is composed.
True leaders are those who epitomize the general sense of the community, who symbolize, legitimize, and strengthen behavior in accordance with the sense of the community, who enable its conscious, shared values and beliefs to emerge, expand, and be transmitted from generation to generation, who enable that which is trying to happen to come into being. The true leader’s behavior is induced by the behavior of every individual who chooses where they will be led.
A vital question is how to insure that those who lead are constructive, ethical, open, and honest. The answer is to follow those who behave in that manner. It comes down to both individual and collective sense of where and how people choose to be led. In a very real sense, followers lead by choosing where to be led. Where an organizational community will be led is inseparable from the shared values and beliefs of its members. True leaders are those who epitomize the general sense of the community – who symbolize, legitimize and strengthen behavior in accordance with the sense of the community… A true leader’s behavior is induced by the behavior of every individual choosing where to be led.
Over the years, I always ask each person to describe the single most important responsibility of any manager… Management inevitably is viewed as exercise of authority – with selecting employees, motivating them, training them, appraising them, organizing them, directing them, and controlling them. That perception is mistaken.
The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who purports to manage is to manage self: one’s own integrity, character, ethics, knowledge, wisdom, temperament, words, and acts. Without management of self no one is fit for authority no matter how much they acquire, for the more authority they acquire the more dangerous they become. It is the management of self that should occupy 50 percent of our time and the best of our ability. And when we do that, the ethical, moral and spiritual elements of management are inescapable.
The second responsibility is to manage those who have authority over us: bosses, supervisors, directors, regulators, ad infinitum. Without their consent and support, how can we follow conviction, exercise judgment, use creative ability, achieve constructive results or create conditions by which others can do the same? Devoting 25 percent of our time and ability to that effort is not too much.
The third responsibility is to manage one’s peers – those over whom we have no authority and who have no authority over us – associates, competitors, suppliers, customers… Without their respect and confidence little or nothing can be accomplished. Is it not wise to devote at least 20 percent of our time, energy, and ingenuity to managing them?
Obviously, the fourth responsibility is to manage those over whom we have authority. The common response is that all one’s time will be consumed managing self, superiors and peers. There will be no time to manage subordinates. Exactly! One need only select decent people, introduce them to the concept, induce them to practice it, and enjoy the process… It is not making better people of others that leadership is about. In today’s world effective leadership is chaordic. It’s about making a better person of self.
The obvious question then always erupts. How do you manage superiors, bosses, regulators, associates, customers? The answer is equally obvious. You cannot. But can you understand them? Can you persuade them? Can you motivate them? Can you disturb them, influence them, forgive them? Can you set them an example? Eventually the proper word emerges. Can you lead them? Of course you can, provided only that you have properly led yourself. There are no rules and regulations so rigorous, no organization so hierarchical, no bosses so abusive that they can prevent us from behaving this way. No individual and no organization, short of killing us, can prevent such use of our energy, ability, and ingenuity…
In the deepest sense, distinction between leaders and followers is meaningless. In every moment of life, we are simultaneously leading and following. There is never a time when our knowledge, judgment and wisdom are not more useful and applicable than that of another. There is never a time when the knowledge, judgment and wisdom of another are not more useful and applicable than ours. At any time that “other” may be superior, subordinate, or peer. People are not “things” to be manipulated, labeled, boxed, bought, and sold. Above all else, they are not “human resources.” We are entire human beings, containing the whole of the evolving universe, limitless until we are limited, whether by self or others.