Issue Number 17: Leadership and the King of the Beasts

Consider a man we’ll call Rob since that is not his name. Rob was a decent person – friendly and outgoing. Unfortunately Rob was also a poster boy for the expression “If you want to know what someone is really like, give him a little power.”

Rob was promoted to a position in which he had a little bit of power. He began by seeking, and appreciating, advice. As time went on, though, Rob changed. He was secretly intimidated by his direct reports, and thought the best way to secure his leadership was to look for followers — and to act like his version of the King of the Beasts.

Within six months he was telling the same people who offered to help him: “I am the boss – you are not qualified to advise me.” When asked to share his leadership philosophy, he said: “Leadership is a lot of people doing what I say.”

Rob thought of the world as a battlefield and his staff as his troops. That meant disagreement was disloyalty and offering advice was insubordination.

What do you think happened?

The best and brightest began disengaging. At first they disengaged mentally – they stopped trying. Then they disengaged spiritually – they stopped caring. Finally, they disengaged physically – they quit.

If you shot a video of Rob at work, you would think he had a lot of power. He was issuing orders and people were running off to obey them and returning for the next order. The truth was that Rob had very little power. The real power lay with everyone else. They were being served orders by Rob. That is not what Robert Greenleaf meant by servant leadership.

Rob now had his band of followers. Know what he did? He complained constantly. “Nobody has any initiative! Nobody can make a decision! I have to do all the work!”

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