Top dog or under dog?

Feb 12 2007 by Janet Howd Print This Article

Back in the days when power tools were beyond humanity's wildest dreams yet trunks and branches still had to be sawn into planks, two men working at either end of a single saw undertook the task.

They soon discovered that the least effortful and therefore the most profitable way to do the job was to dig a deep pit in which one worker could stand and saw upwards whilst the other, standing on the pit's outer rim, sawed downwards.

Both positions were equally back breaking but having to put up with wood chippings, leaves, insects and fine dust raining down onto your head meant that to be in the pit was much the less enviable position.

To utilise this man power to its best advantage, the two would have originally taken turns in each position. Over time, however, the relative comfort of the upper position must have become hard to relinquish, and top dog and under dog - the terms descriptive of the physical position involved in the task - became terms of status and hierarchy.

To be atop all others has denoted high rank throughout recorded history. Head and shoulders above the rest; beyond the reach of ordinary mortals; the upper crust: our language is littered with terms which indicate the higher the position the greater the importance.

Once permanently up there, however, top dogs have permanently to contend with the strain of bending to the pull of those below.

Seeking to remove some of this effort from his own shoulders and place it on those of his knights, Britain's King Arthur utilised a round table: no doubt made from planks sawn by just such an uneasy partnership as that mentioned above.

With his team thus constrained, Arthur sought to corral their ideas, and get them to see eye to eye over how best to manage any given situation. Meanwhile, of course - since no matter how large its circumference each person in a circle can see all the others - Arthur's skills of leadership were laid open for all to see.

In our own time, we had the opportunity to observe leadership skills in the round and in minute detail when the eyes of the world focussed in on Ground zero: that great O gouged out of the heart of Manhattan's vibrant community on 9/11.

Mayor Giuliani, the focus of attention then - and just now deciding whether to run for the American Presidency - lists essential qualities for leadership as:

1. The vision to see what needs to be done.

2. The ability to keep focused while formulating the relentless planning needed to achieve that goal.

3. The imagination to communicate the plan in such a way as to keep a variety of individuals focused on the common task

4. The persuasive powers to gain their willingness to operate as a team when necessity dictates.

5. The need to acknowledge and properly reward the effort of those in the 'basement' who struggle to make a difference.

This last would seem to be the condition of leadership beside which all others pale. For until the underdogs buried deep in boiler rooms; pinned down behind sewing machines; entombed by headphones; blinkered by the minutiae of nanotech products; incarcerated in sewers; stashed on off shore oil rigs; holding ladders steady; etc. are properly acknowledged and valued, the top dogs will always be in danger of being caught off balance by the uncertain force of the thrust from below.

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.