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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 March 23, 2021

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

You need more than time management. You need energy management

1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

2. Determine your “peak hours”

Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

3. Block those high-energy hours

Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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