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If We’re All Talented People, Why Do We Still Need a Leader?

If We’re All Talented People, Why Do We Still Need a Leader?

A 2015 study by Gallup revealed that a shocking 1 in 2 people who quit their jobs left because of poor management.[1] Fewer than 1/3 of American workers report feeling engaged at work, and poor leadership is partly to blame. If leaders are so bad for our work environment, why do we still have them?

Unexpectedly, leadership is in our biology.

As much as many of us hate to admit it, we are naturally predisposed to seek the guidance of leaders. The dynamic between leaders and followers can be found across countless species– from horses to bees to wolves. Leaders compel groups to act in order to keep them safe or help them fulfill a biological need to eat, drink, or reproduce.[2]

Primates have evolved to form complex social hierarchies. Like chimps and macaques, we humans have created social structures to guarantee that our basic needs are met and ensure the well-being of the group.[3]

In the animal kingdom, some creatures reach leadership status through circumstances.

These are called circumstantial leaders. For example, if a stallion is killed, leadership of the herd reverts to the next dominant horse in line. Equines work to understand who is “high horse” every day so that they can ensure that their leader is the strongest and the most likely to assure their survival.

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While it has gotten easier for us to get what we need, we still organize ourselves into hierarchies in response to circumstances. Some leaders come to their positions organically. For example, a worker with specialized training may find themselves in charge of a professional development workshop simply because they possess knowledge that their coworkers need.

Some species actively assert their leadership abilities to convince others to follow them.

These are called prospective leaders.Ants and bees send members of their group in search of food sources. These scouts return to their group after finding food, and they convince others to follow them through “dances” or distinct flight patterns.

Human leaders also assert their desire to take on leadership roles. They may volunteer to take on more responsibility or apply for jobs that enable them to take on leadership roles. They make their intent to lead explicit to the rest of the group. If they make their case convincingly enough, others will follow them.

We are wired to have things in order.

This information about animal social hierarchies is all well and good, but it doesn’t seem to explain why you need to listen to your boss today. As it turns out, leaders in the work place are a continuation of our natural inclination to organize.

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From early hominids, to hunter-gathers, to the current members of the Information Age, leaders rise to create order.[4]

Organization of groups and new technology helped people transition from livings as nomads to agrarians to agriculturalists. The Neolithic Revolution, which marked an increased reliance on agriculture,[5] spurred human settlements to grow and organize in new ways.

This organization was necessary to maintain control and safeguard the settlements’ survival. Settlement development continued for thousands of years and resulted in some of today’s most impressive archaeological remains. The pyramids at Giza were not constructed by a bunch of individuals depositing 15-ton blocks at their leisure, after all. Real cooperation and skill went into building these elaborate tombs, and it was all done at the behest of their leaders, the pharaohs.

The massive Bronze Age palaces of Mycenae, Tiryns, and Pylos exemplify regional centers in Greece. We see similar evidence for social hierarchy in the Mississippian United States in the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex. Although these communities conceptualized their worlds differently and existed on opposite ends of the globe, the result of their leadership structure was the same; they could ensure the survival of their people through amassing resources, which could be redistributed in the event of a crisis. These settlement structures also enabled groups to trade items within their network to enrich the lives of their people and further reinforce the status of certain members of these groups.

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Games such as Sid Meier’s Civilization help modern audiences understand the way that leadership styles adapted to address socio-political and environmental issues throughout human history.[6]

Our definition of leadership has changed though.

In general, past leadership styles relied on centralized control and the presence of an exalted leader. (Think of all the god-kings that pepper our history books.) Today, leadership tends to be more diffuse, collaborative, and group-oriented.[7] Our interest in democracies is one example of this distribution of power across multiple entities.

In addition to unifying us to ensure the survival of the species, our leaders work to help our companies and businesses survive. Leadership is constantly evolving to address the changing social and political climate. At this point, there seems to be a disconnect between what we need from our leaders and what they offer us today, which could explain why we question our need for them. Recent scholarship considers finding solid leadership talent to be one of the top concerns facing businesses today.[8]

Modern leaders do best when they avoid autocracy.

Democratic leaders seek input from team members. The combined intellectual and creative input leads to a more energetic and optimistic work environment. Leaders who seek to develop the skills of their subordinates foster a growth mindset in the workplace.

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Group leaders may have a great deal of skill, but the most gifted leaders recognize that they must give their team members opportunities to shine in order to support their objectives. Distributing some power enables employees to become more confident, competent, and invested. When everyone is committed to the outcome, the combined talents of the group exceed the capabilities of the leader acting alone.

The tendency toward collaboration is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

One of the biggest struggles that companies face today is the readiness gap. [9] A recent study found that only 25% of Fortune 500 companies felt they had leaders adequately prepared to fill leadership roles. When we consider this gap, it is easy to understand why our bosses may occasionally do cringe-worthy things. Developing leadership skills takes time, and right now our demand outstrips the supply.

Even with a talented workforce, we still need leaders to shape our direction and lead us toward an overarching vision. In spite of a perceived lack of experience, the best leaders work to grow their skills. Rather than take on an adversarial relationship with our superiors, there may be room for negotiation and input that can lead to profound outcomes for all of us.

A world without leaders could be chaotic.

Despite the fact that sometimes our bosses miss the mark, when they do their jobs well, their employees have more freedom to excel in their roles. Managers have administrative responsibilities for which we are unaware. When they take on these burdens, they allow us to focus and make our day run more smoothly. Our leaders resolve conflicts and help us unify around a collective vision.

Even on our leaders’ worst days, their presence is preferable to a world in which they don’t exist. While we could survive without leaders, competition over resources would likely lead to violence and destabilization, and it would stall our ability to innovate as a society. Imagine a workplace in which there is no one to resolve conflicts and no one to have the final say.

It takes visionaries to motivate groups of people to unite around a common goal. Public works, advances in modern technology, and our continuous drive toward making the world a better place could not happen without leadership and collaboration.

Reference

More by this author

Angelina Phebus

Writer, Yoga Instructor (RYT 200)

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Last Updated on August 16, 2018

16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

The same old motivational secrets don’t really motivate you after you’ve read them for the tenth time, do they?

How about a unique spin on things?

These 16 productivity secrets of successful people will make you reevaluate your approach to your home, work, and creative lives. Learn from these highly successful people, turn these little things they do into your daily habits and you’ll get closer to success.

1. Empty your mind.

It sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it?

Emptying your mind when you have so much to remember seems like you’re just begging to forget something. Instead, this gives you a clean slate so you’re not still thinking about last week’s tasks.

Clear your mind and then start thinking only about what you need to do immediately, and then today. Tasks that need to be accomplished later in the week can wait.

Here’s a guide to help you empty your mind and think sharper:

How to Declutter Your Mind to Sharpen Your Brain and Fall Asleep Faster

2. Keep certain days clear.

Some companies are scheduling “No Meeting Wednesdays,” which means, funnily enough, that no one can hold a meeting on a Wednesday. This gives workers a full day to work on their own tasks, without getting sidetracked by other duties or pointless meetings.

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This can work in your personal life too, for example if you need to restrict Facebook access or limit phone calls.

3. Prioritize your work.

Don’t think every task is created equal! Some tasks aren’t as important as others, or might take less time.

Try to sort your tasks every day and see what can be done quickly and efficiently. Get these out of the way so you have more free time and brain power to focus on what is more important.

Lifehack’s CEO has a unique way to prioritize works, take a look at it here:

How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

4. Chop up your time.

Many successful business leaders chop their time up into fifteen-minute intervals. This means they work on tasks for a quarter of an hour at a time, or schedule meetings for only fifteen minutes. It makes each hour seem four times as long, which leads to more productivity!

5. Have a thinking position.

Truman Capote claimed he couldn’t think unless he was laying down. Proust did this as well, while Stravinsky would stand on his head!

What works for others may not work for you. Try to find a spot and position that is perfect for you to brainstorm or come up with ideas.

6. Pick three to five things you must do that day.

To Do lists can get overwhelming very quickly. Instead of making a never-ending list of everything you can think of that needs to be done, make daily lists that include just three to five things.

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Make sure they’re things that need to be done that day, so you don’t keep putting them off.

7. Don’t try to do too much.

OK, so I just told you to work every day, and now I’m telling you to not do too much? It might sound like conflicting advice, but not doing too much means not biting off more than you can chew. Don’t say yes to every work project or social engagement and find yourself in way over your head.

8. Have a daily action plan.

Don’t limit yourself to a to-do list! Take ten minutes every morning to map out a daily action plan. It’s a place to not only write what needs to be done that day, but also to prioritize what will bring the biggest reward, what will take the longest, and what goals will be accomplished.

Leave room for a “brain dump,” where you can scribble down anything else that’s on your mind.

9. Do your most dreaded project first.

Getting your most dreaded task over with first means you’ll have the rest of the day free for anything and everything else. This also means that you won’t be constantly putting off the worst of your projects, making it even harder to start on it later.

10. Follow the “Two-Minute Rule.”

The “Two-Minute Rule” was made famous by David Allen. It’s simple – if a new task comes in and it can be done in two minutes or less, do it right then. Putting it off just adds to your to-do list and will make the task seem more monumental later.

11. Have a place devoted to work.

If you work in an office, it’s no problem to say that your cubicle desk is where you work every day.

But if you work from home, make sure you have a certain area specifically for work. You don’t want files spread out all over the dinner table, and you don’t want to feel like you’re not working just because you’re relaxing on the couch.

Agatha Christie never wrote at her desk, she wrote wherever she could sit down. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. Thomas Wolfe, at 6’6″ tall, used the top of his refrigerator as a desk. Richard Wright wrote on a park bench, rain or shine.

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Have a space where, when you go there, you know you’re going to work. Maybe it’s a cafe downstairs, the library, or a meeting room. Whenever and wherever works for you, do your works there.

12. Find your golden hour.

You don’t have to stick to a “typical” 9–5 schedule!

Novelist Anne Rice slept during the day and wrote at night to avoid distractions. Writer Jerzy Kosinski slept eight hours a day, but never all at once. He’d wake in the morning, work, sleep four hours in the afternoon, then work more that evening.

Your golden hour is the time when you’re at your peak. You’re alert, ready to be productive, and intent on crossing things off your to-do list.

Once you find your best time, protect it with all your might. Make sure you’re always free to do your best uninterrupted work at this time.

13. Pretend you’re on an airplane.

It might not be possible to lock everyone out of your office to get some peace and quiet, but you can eliminate some distractions.

By pretending you’re on an airplane, you can act like your internet access is limited, you’re not able to get something from your bookcase, and you can’t make countless phone calls.

Eliminating these distractions will help you focus on your most important tasks and get them done without interruption.

14. Never stop.

Writers Anthony Trollope and Henry James started writing their next books as soon as they finished their current work in progress.

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Stephen King writes every day of the year, and holds himself accountable for 2,000 words a day! Mark Twain wrote every day, and then read his day’s work aloud to his family to get their feedback.

There’s something to be said about working nonstop, and putting out continuous work instead of taking a break. It’s just a momentum that will push you go further./

15. Be in tune with your body.

Your mind and body will get tired of a task after ninety minutes to two hours focused on it. Keep this in mind as you assign projects to yourself throughout the day, and take breaks to ensure that you won’t get burned out.

16. Try different methods.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote the first drafts of his novels on index cards. This made it easy to rearrange sentences, paragraphs, and chapters by shuffling the cards around.

It does sound easier, and more fun, than copying and pasting in Word! Once Nabokov liked the arrangement, his wife typed them into a single manuscript.

Same for you, don’t give up and think that it’s impossible for you to be productive when one method fails. Try different methods until you find what works perfectly for you.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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