The world has always been an insanely chaotic place defined by constant change, creation, destruction, and an ever-increasing competition for finite resources and space. This coupled with exponentially changing environmental conditions creates for one confusing place.
So, what does this have to do with leadership?
Those species and organisms which have developed the ability to coordinate and synchronise their efforts have found resilience, robustness and success that often far supersedes those ‘lone wolf’ characters. There is no clearer evidence of this than humans dragging their way to the top of the evolutionary ladder by working in teams.
We could even argue that our ability to create teams has in some ways become too successful, as it has:
- Increased our average life expectancy from ‘below 40’ in the 1800’s to now over ’Over 83’ in some developed Western cultures, resulting in over population and an unsustainable drain on environmental resources and space.
- Allowed us to develop technologies that provide the ability to collaborate, often at the expense of interpersonal interactions and face-to-face engagements.
- Resulted in us living in cities, sometimes completely devoid of any connection with nature and the environment we are concurrently destroying
The need for strong leaders who are morally and ethically aligned has never been more important.
Teaming allows us to hunt big
‘Hunting big’ originally referred to our ability to take down larger prey by working as a pack. By being able to attack, trap and shape an animal on multiple fronts resulted in the animal becoming overwhelmed and making mistakes. This in turn increased our likelihood of taking down larger animals, coupled with the convenience of having to do less hunts. Less hunts equated to less risk on individuals, which in turn allowed us to live safer and longer. Concurrently whilst other members of a tribe were hunting big game, there were others foraging and sourcing key raw materials which would support the broader community.
Leadership would have been required at all levels in order to coordinate and synchronise the efforts of different teams. This would have also included prioritising their efforts in order to ensure their precious collective energy could be invested in those initiatives that would provide them the greatest returns.
In today’s current corporate context there is little to no difference. The teams that are able to coordinate their efforts and invest their precious resources towards an agreed strategy, win.
Teams help us cover our personal gaps
Teams provide the necessary platform and mechanism in order to capitalise on the unique abilities of the people within them. This is achieved by allowing individuals to capitalise on emerging opportunities and gaps, whilst being personally protected by the team’s ability to absorb risk and danger.
In days of old, this would have looked like an individual taking the opportunity to throw their spear, knowing that another member of the team would be able to protect them whilst they were disarmed.
This would have also looked like community members providing for injured or sick members of the community, only to have the favour reciprocated when the roles were reversed.
The corporate world is very similar. The teams that are able to adjust rapidly to their dynamic industry environments are the ones that will ultimately thrive. This can only be achieved if the members of our team are looking outwards for opportunities, instead of looking inwards for danger.
Teams allow specialisation
Our ability to form and establish teams with specialist capabilities allows us to adjust to an ever complex and changing world. The difficult for leaders is meshing the complex array of personalities and character types into one unified group, and then refocusing their efforts. This takes significant skill and finesse in order to get right.
In the past this would later set the conditions for agriculture and industrialisation. By allowing individuals to perfect a trade or skill, the community was able to elevate its collective standard of life. We would have seen blacksmiths manipulating precious metals, butchers sourcing and preparing meat, farmers and millers creating larger more efficient methodologies for mass producing product. You get the idea…
The point is that the most effective teams are those that understand that each of their members is inherently different and uses that to their advantage. In this way, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
When teams and leadership go wrong
A commonly overlooked aspect of leadership is the impact when it goes wrong. All we have to do is look briefly back in our history to see when poor leadership influences the masses to do terrible things (genocides, religious wars, cults, unethical corporate organisations, etc)
My time on this world has shown me the good and bad sides of teams. The bad sides include:
- Cliques & nasty social groups
- Unnecessary wars and conflicts
- Misuse of precious resources
- Manipulation of weaker groups
- Exploitation of people and the environment
Forbes’ provides this definition, “leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal”. But this doesn’t speak to the morality, ethics or utility of what we are ultimately working towards. I would like to think that the world has progressed to a point where we not only judge our leaders on their ability to empower others, but also towards the validity of the cause itself.
If our leaders are guiding followers towards goals and objectives that only seek to exploit or displace other teams and organisations, then surely, we cannot consider this effective leadership under a contemporary definition. Using our precious (and ever reducing) resources at the expense of others does not seem like a sound long-term or survivable strategy to me. Surely, morality and ethical decision making must come into it.
At The Eighth Mile Consulting we routinely use the mantra ‘Good People, Helping Good People’, not only as a means to keep us honest but also as a filter to screen our clients. Our values are clear and concise and can be used to screen our operational objectives and we categorically refuse to support organisations that leave a wake of destruction wherever they go. This has been a guiding characteristic for our team, and we have found ourselves blessed in supporting positive projects, people and initiatives. We are making the world a better place one little bit at a time, and we are using strong moral leadership to achieve it.
Make sure you are leading your teams towards goal that leave a positive legacy worth talking about…