One of my favorite finds last year was a book entitled History Year by Year (The Ultimate Visual Guide to the Events That Shaped the World). It’s exactly what the title says it is, a chronological piecing of events from 8 Million Years Ago to the year 2011. It is incredible to see how events have impacted one another, and how immensely flawed characters have affected our lives for better or worse. I was reminded of the importance of leadership, of how whom we follow is so critical. We’ve all been told that. But another thing that became apparent as I progressed through the eras was how the nature of leadership also changed. Let me explain:
In the ancient times, when the leader, such as a king or pharaoh, wanted to build a structure like the pyramids, he would order his army to raid the surrounding tribes and bring back slaves. They would then put these slaves to work, ordering, whipping, and threatening them to do their assigned task. If they didn’t follow, they would be punished, hurt, or even killed. The leader here had absolute power and in many cases he was god. So he treated others as disposable means to fulfill his wishes. There would be pockets of reason and thought during the classical time but leaders still predominantly dictated their wishes. You do your work or you die. Every now and then, someone would lead a revolt and the leadership would change, but the system would not.
Later on, during the feudal period, people were serfs and served a lord who let them live on his land provided that they pay him tribute and taxes. The life of a serf was still pretty much a terribly impoverished existence, yet the lords, through titles, had the rights to their produce. These lords were en-titled so they expected benefits. You do your work so that you can receive your share of the goods, if you don’t, you found yourself in the dungeon or are cast off. Again, once in a while a revolt would happen but the large armies were generally successful at putting out fires.
The enlightenment of the renaissance and the revolutions would shake the idea of leading by divine right. More and more, people realized they had to take back for themselves the right to choose their own path and to pursuit a fulfilling life. It didn’t make sense to live impoverished and be mistreated while the people who benefit from your work live luxuriously and excessively. Countries like the United States of America and France would be transformed into new nations under no king.
The industrial period would bring incredible productivity and speed up the pace of life significantly. People now worked for wages, wages they could use to purchase what they needed to survive. Working conditions, living standards, personal satisfaction, health, and wellbeing didn’t matter. What mattered to leaders was output and efficiency, that the worker did his task. If a worker didn’t do his job, he was fired. The argument was (and sometimes still is) “No one forced them to take this job. They can always quit.”
Throughout these periods different institutions, primarily government and church (of different religions), would be the dominant powers. They would influence the way people lived in both great and terrible ways. The merchant class and the private sector would begin to rise as more people realized the merit of a system where people could, through industry and hard work, make a better living for themselves and their loved ones. And more and more, people started rejecting the idea that someone who has no valuable contribution to your life can still rule you through fear of position or perdition.
This rejection of blind following is more evident in this modern and post-modern period. I personally cannot see the wisdom of following anyone who says they know what’s best for me when they know very little about me. To apply a “proven” formula to the wrong problem will lead to the wrong results. We cannot prescribe the same treatment for a diverse concerns. What makes them think they know the answer when they haven’t even take the time to just listen?
What’s my point?
The nature of leadership continuous to change. The flow of leadership continuous to move away from controlling kings to selfless servants. Incredibly, this was actually the model Jesus spoke about when He said that greatness comes from being the servant of all. It has moved from “I’m the authority” and “I’m right” to “how may I help you?” and “let’s build this together.” Leadership has become more relational.
Don’t believe me? Look at every business category leader and you’ll find a focused effort not on technology, or process, or product, or tradition, but on people, on serving the needs and desires of specific customer segments well. You’ll find more collaboration between management and staff. You’ll find more listening and feeling. Gone are the days of building pyramids with slaves and building castles with serfs. People don’t want to be ruled over. They want to be led, and led to a better place. People want to follow but they don’t wan’t to be manipulated. People want to give. They don’t want to be coerced. They don’t want to be blackmailed with rejection or pain or death or hell. Life is short, and people want to be led to lead a fulfilling life.
And what makes life truly fulfilling?
In my opinion: true relationships.
My dad explains relationships very simply as this: a connection between people of trust, love, communication, and forgiveness. Healthy relationships he explained are Founded in Trust, Motivated by Love, Continually Communicate, and forgive, forgive, forgive.
That’s how we should be leading our lives. That’s how we should lead others.
I don’t want to live a life caged by people’s expectations. I have done my best to beat expectations and all I received in return are heavier expectations. It’s not worth it. So I must manage my expectations of others.
I don’t want to be in relationships where I’m a mistake away from being out. I have made mistakes. I will make mistakes – even big ones. I want to build with those who will help me overcome not desert me. So I must help others overcome.
I don’t want to be controlled or manipulated or pressured to do things. I want to spend myself on things I’m passionate about and share life with people who care more about me than how well I perform. So I must not control and manipulate.
I especially don’t want to be judged by people who only show interest in me when I may be in the wrong but have been absent in my moments of great need. So I must be present in the lowest moments of friends.
These realizations have changed my approach towards leading the people in my teams. It is more compassionate now, more interested in them and not just their work. There is more effort on engaging and inspiring. I try to listen more, for without listening there can be no understanding. I have learned to be more gracious with mistakes even if ultimately it costs me, knowing that investments of kindness will someday be profitable as well.