With ownership one could argue, the owner’s worldview is to extract value from people working on ‘their’ projects where as, a leader is leveraging the potential of a group of people to co-create value for the community.
Ownership is one of the greatest cons of all time which began around 10,000 years ago. Somehow, somebody, (probably a man) got their hands on some agricultural tech and gained an advantage over others, then leveraged that advantage. This has led to hierarchies, the exploitation of people and the destructive extraction of wealth from the planet with disastrous consequences.
Don’t believe me? Just look around you…
Before that period, as evidenced by observing contemporary hunter gatherer cultures that are still around today, we can see that our Palaeolithic ancestors were primarily egalitarian. Moreover, they were egalitarian for 150,000 years and living in balance with nature. They’ve outlasted supposedly more sophisticated, war-like civilisations such as the Roman, Mongolian and several Chinese dynasties.
Anthropologists have studied dozens of hunter-gatherer societies in remote areas around the world such as Africa, Asia and South America. These tribes lived in small bands of about 20 to 50 people and have many common cultural values. They also maintain peaceful relationships with friends and relatives in neighbouring bands. Warfare was relatively unknown and the dominant cultural ethos emphasised autonomy, non-directive childrearing, communal cooperation and decision-making. It appears we collaborated our way to the top of the evolutionary tree.
On the flip-side, modern history has been the ongoing conquest by dominant warring parties of other smaller bands to form more complex political structures. These societies focus on higher levels of power, wealth and control passing to an elite group at the top and like a Ponzi scheme is unsustainable. Every so often they fail and collapse back down to more sustainable levels. Then when the dust has settled and memories faded they begin the same journey again.
We’re heading towards a global economic and cultural community but that’s a work in progress. In the meantime we’re wrecking the planet with our conquering and exploitative mindset and people’s mental health and wellbeing are suffering as a result. Two decades of war in the middle east to protect the American petro-dollar is a classic example. All those humanitarian and ecological costs to protect the oil industry and American’s hegemony, are externalised onto communities and the planet.
So back to teamwork and leadership.
How does behaviour compare with egalitarian communities and modern workgroups?
Just as we have modern archetypes in the workplace, one could argue they match those of ancient egalitarian people. There are hunters, gatherers, shaman (mostly women originally) and scouts.
Hunters periodically acquired meat as a source of protein, Shamans were the keepers of the wisdom e.g. which berries were edible and which would kill you. Gatherers nurtured others in the community and foraged for edible vegetation and the Scouts would look for new hunting grounds and connect with other communities for marriages and trading.
Today we have Founders who are similar to Scouts as in they challenge old ideas, create new products and champion new ideas.
We have Entrepreneurs who tend to be more risk tolerant, focussed and can drive new ideas into existence similar to the hunter personality.
We have the Gathers who are the supporters and coaches within the organisations.
And the Managers, like the Shamans, are generally the keepers of the wisdom and strive for operational excellence and like to organise for certainty.
But what’s different from the workplace is traditional egalitarian communities maintain social norms that prevent any of the personalities from trying to exploit their position. These are called:
S.T.O.P’s – Strategies to Overcome Power
Hunters didn’t bring home meat then boast about their good fortune and hold the rest of the group to ransom. They didn’t promote silly ideas of greed as some ordained right. Material wealth was shared. Egalitarian communities focus on what George Monbiot calls ‘private sufficiency and public luxury’ the total opposite of what neo-liberal capitalists promote today.
In our evolutionary history we began to resist hierarchy, an ancestral primate social modus-operandi, when we developed the ability to speak. This allowed weaker members to collaborate more effectively, band together and throw rocks at any tyrannical member of the group that tried to dominate them. However, all previous evolutionary and developmental versions of us, are encapsulated within us and if the right conditions occur, people will revert back to being monkeys basically.
They will try to dominate others to get a bigger share of the bananas, and once they’ve got their hands on the bananas, they don’t like letting go.
For business owners and managers this means they have to deal with the psychological effects of the dominance and involuntary defeat systems. These are behavioural operating systems which arise as soon as you introduce hierarchy.
Those with authority and status begin to focus on their position and keeping it rather than doing what’s best for the community. It also increases the likelihood of psychopathology such as Machiavellianism and narcissism (a good example is politics).
Being dominated, triggers our involuntary defeat behaviours which leads us to doing as little as possible for our meagre share of the bananas…Well you would wouldn’t you?
As society has become more polarised between the have’s and the have nots, resentment builds. We’ve seen this with the rise of populism as smart people have tapped into the powerlessness felt by those left behind and motivated them to act in ways which actually don’t serve them but serve the elite…yet again.
‘Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand and I can lift the world’
Well leadership is the lever and humility is the place to stand. If we strive to see leadership as a lever of potential not a badge of office and promote those leadership behaviours throughout the organisation in self managing teams and communities we would probably see engagement increase tremendously. Of course it is not easy to wrestle back control from the baboons so perhaps it would be better to follow Buckminster Fuller’s idea:
‘Don’t fight the existing reality, create a new one which makes the old one obsolete’
So in summary, if you’re prepared to treat people like wage slaves, then by all means carry on, but don’t be surprised if it feels like you’re dealing with monkeys at times. Also accept that people are fed up of being left behind which is how Trump and Brexit happened. They’re also realising that their is an alternative and it’s on the rise.
Employee ownership is attracting tax incentives as it has been seen as beneficial for business and society for many years. When you have this level of ownership then the teams have skin in the game. It’s a great way for entrepreneurs to have a succession plan, because when things are steady, they like to move onto their next challenge whilst leaving a legacy.
Whenever an organisation needs to adapt quickly to overcome greater challenges, they’ve always diminished the influence of hiearchy and moved power to information. I call this the Elite Team Concept, as used by the military and organisations.
Special project teams have been hiding in plain site and showing the way for centuries. The irony is that they’re not elite, they’re egalitarian in nature and focus on doing the basics well. It’s our evolutionary advantage. Imagine if you empowered your whole orgniasation with the elite team concept?
Want to know more?
Check out: The Elite Team Concept Seminar with Complimentary Digital Book
The next one is Online on February 4th 2021