Bottoms up: employing leadersLeadership should be a virtue which is present on all levels. It should be the glue that holds the organisation together
The importance of “leadership” has been discussed for decades. However, what exactly is leadership and why is it so vital at the workplace? Particularly in today’s rapidly evolving and fast paced world, is it merely enough that the top-level managers are great leaders? And how do employees of all levels fit into the larger scheme of things?
Ruchin Singh, managing director at Edushala, suggests that leadership doesn’t always follow a top-down approach, “Visionary leaders and upper-level managers are, indeed, necessary for a company to flourish. However, only this is not enough,” he says, “It is tempting for employees to assign all responsibility of mediation and ‘leadership’ to a higher-ranked third-party. But for a company to have a solid foundation and remain effective from inside-out, employees at all levels must demonstrate competency, cooperation, responsibility and accountability. All these qualities are contributors to the larger virtue of leadership. Without this virtue amongst employees, progress will continue to be stymied.”
Manifold problems arise in the absence of such ground-up leadership. If employees prioritse personal agendas, don’t consider the bigger picture, don’t cooperate and don’t recognise responsibilities, it results in incessant squabbling, bickering and finger-pointing which significantly stunts the company’s overall progress.
Ashish Tiwari, director and principal at ACE Institute of Management, goes into more depth about this scarcely-mentioned and crucial form of leadership. “A company may be thought of as a jigsaw puzzle. A single missing piece could send the company to unimaginable losses. Blame games only work for so long; the damage is done regardless. Instead of pointing fingers, if an employee doesn’t harbour negative feelings, does some introspection and figures out what he could have done to improve the situation, it makes a significant difference.”
In order to speculate what kind of employees would create the perfect workplace, it would be a good idea to examine a perfect workplace. It does not exist? Maybe not among humans. Think, for example, of a company as a beehive, which is a highly effective, near perfect system with the end goal of procreation and survival. Different bees have highly specific roles. Worker bees gather nectar and pollen, drone bees are raised to mate with the queen, the queen reproduces other bees. Now, for example, imagine if a drone bee grew indignant of the worker bee, complained about the amount of food he brought, and then the worker bee started sprouting resentment and brought even less food. Drone bees wouldn’t have enough nutrients to procreate with the queen and hence, the whole system would be ineffective. This, of course, doesn’t happen with bees but it does invariably with humans.
It is perhaps human nature to prioritise personal progress instead of prioritising progress of the company as a whole. However, in the workplace, the way to advance effectively is to help the company grow. There is a bit of irony to this concept. The employee who seeks personal gain exclusively is regarded as problematic and thus foils his original plan of progressing personally. In contrast, the employee who sets aside personal agendas in favour of striving to help the company grow is rewarded by the company with promotions and raises, and thus, is the one who actually progresses.
“Ego is a big issue and it causes a lot of problems in the workplace,” Ruchin Singh mentions, “Theoretically, if every worker would recognise their roles and see themselves, not as people who have their own agendas and reputation to maintain, but as people who are part of a bigger system, it would make the perfect workplace.” Singh’s description of the perfect workplace does indeed sound like the analogy of the beehive. What gives?
In a broader sense, leadership is seen as the ability to lead and is usually affiliated with higher ranked managerial and directorial positions. However, with a closer look, an inspection of the perfect workplace and with insights from Tiwari and Shrestha, we discover that there is another form of leadership principally useful for employees. This kind of leadership is spread throughout the company, necessary for employees
at all levels. It is multifaceted and made up of many components which include: viewing oneself as a part of a bigger picture, recognising one’s role in the picture, not partaking in blame games, not harbouring unreasonable ill feelings for co-workers, accepting and being accountable for one’s responsibilities and continuously looking for opportunities to progress, both personally and as a collective.
Without this form of leadership, a single visionary leader or manager would not be able to run the organization smoothly. Leadership should be a virtue which is present on all levels. It should be the glue that holds the organisation together. Perhaps it would be wise to learn from the virtues of the bee workers. Successfully imbuing these qualities in employees may be a long shot, but it is a start.