Welcome to The Living Room!

Welcome to The Living Room!

I'm developing this blog to foster a warm community of people interested in ideas, art, science and practice around personal development and flourishing.

I work as an executive coach, and founded a company whose mission is helping people to find success at work in a way that provides satisfaction across all areas of their lives (you can check us out at www.madeleineshaw.com.au).

Leadership, learning, the wonderful brain/body connection, presence, influence, emotions, thinking, effectiveness, flow and FUN.

I want to know more, and do more!

The world is our living room so let's get living.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Toddlers, chimps and leaders

We were at a barbecue yesterday. The very pleasant afternoon was made all the more so because our 2 year old played happily and harmoniously with our friend's 3 year old for hours.  By contrast, when our daughter teams up with her other 2 year old buddies, the peace is shattered pretty regularly by power struggles and turf wars.

What was the difference yesterday? Hierarchy. She slotted right in behind the older child, who took on the role of leader.  They took turns and shared but any differences of opinion were settled (by the leader) before the conflict grew into a real dispute. Of course, had he abused his power I am sure it would have been just a matter of time before she rebelled.  As it happened, he was a generous and thoughtful kid who was happy to accommodate his younger friend and play nicely.

It got me thinking about how hierarchy plays out in the workplace.  Andrew O'Keeffe at Hardwired Humans draws fascinating lessons for humans from his observations of animal behaviour. He wrote a great newsletter on just this point, suggesting that hierarchy, status and power are natural and intuitive - so don't fight it, work with it. He also offers some tips for leaders in working with this power.

Although I'd like to think that the urban sophisticates of the modern workplace have moved beyond chimpanzee or toddler behaviour, I suspect that in fact we simply become a lot more subtle about it. The stories we tell ourselves and others might become more complex but at the core, the same forces seem to be driving us. When I was at university (not the pinnacle of urban sophistication that we believed it to be at the time!) I was involved with a very right-on political collective that ostensibly made decisions by consensus.  In fact, a small group of leaders made the decisions.  When these decisions went against the wishes of the majority of the group for long enough, there was a vote and the leaders' group was de-throned. I vividly recall their outrage!

There seems to be a level of discomfort with hierarchy - it resonates against our ideas of democracy and a fair go. What do you think? Should we be able to move beyond hierarchy in groups or is it something that can be worked with in the best interests of all?

1 comment:

  1. Interesting observations at the BBQ. As I read this I wonder what part the Australian Culture plays in the "Fair go for all". We seem much more comfortable with this approach than we do hierarchy, yet we need direction & someone to take charge & actively seek this. Something to think more about thats for sure. Suzy M