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Self Imposed Shackles

Between the 12th and 15th Centuries the Feudal system was the dominant form of social structure in Europe. Feudalism relied on an idea that a lord or baron had power over the people within their domain. Their word was quite literally the law.

You might ask ‘where is he going with this?, we threw off the shackles of the Feudal system centuries ago’.

Indeed we did, Feudalism died out as other philosophies of social structure came into being and over the years since, more of us began to live under systems that espoused, protected and advocated our freedom as individuals.

And yet, all around the western world, we get up on a Monday, go to work and willingly put on the structures and behaviours that a 10th century baron would recognise.

Every day people are unwilling to question their manager, challenge that managers reasoning or decisions, and even in some cases putting up with behaviour from their manager that is domineering at best. People can treat CEO’s with the kind of deference that a Frankish lord would expect of those around him (indeed we even have magazines that laud praises on CEO’s of major corporates). People can turn off their intellect, experience and capability because someone ‘on a higher pay grade’ expresses an opinion.

Yet, when you ask many modern leaders whether this is what they expect or want from people, they would say that they want openness, honesty, challenge, discussion and advice and insight from the people around them. The shackles are often self imposed.

As a leader and as you get promoted up the ladder, you will get used to making a lot of correct decisions. Thats why you get promoted. You will get used to people agreeing with you because you are right or showed some insight that no-one else saw. You can get used to the idea of people asking for your view or your opinion. But when does that sway to ‘hierarchical deference’ or ‘positional power’?. Is there a possibility that at some point, your  voice is listened to ‘just because you are the boss’?(and if you are reading this and thinking that this is only right and proper you may want to get in a time machine and go back to the 12th century!).

If you truly want to be the kind of leader who has open conversations, can be challenged, and gets the most out of other peoples knowledge you may have to set a few things in place to make that happen.

  1. Who speaks first: CEO’s, Chairmen, GM’s who speak first on every point in a meeting may find that they are setting up a situation where people have to ‘disagree with the boss’. Hold your peace and encourage others to express their view first.
  2. Sudden silence: When you say something, watch for peoples expressions or reactions. If they close down or look away then it may be possible that they don’t actually agree with you even if they are nodding.
  3. Routine agreement:If you find that people agree with you more often than not then you might want to check whether they are agreeing with what was said or who said it. Try saying something you don’t actually believe in and see what response you get.
  4. Establishing conditions: When you are throwing ideas out, let people know that is what you are doing. When you do decide that want something done a certain way, then make it clear that this actually is a decision that you are taking that is not up for debate, so that people understand the difference.
  5. Rewarding the brave: Do you recognise when someone has has questioned your view at a meeting? Or do people have to sidle up to you and whisper their concerns? Do you reward the ‘deviant view’ the questioner and the one who actually does what you ask people to do? If not, why not?

Being a leader is full of challenges. Being the leader you say you want to be is even harder. To be a 21st leader may require you to help your people throw off the mental shackles of the last 900 years!

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