We are all familiar with the traditional management practices that evolved during the industrial age in the 18th and 19th Centuries. During this period, managers 'managed' through strict practices, rigid hierarchies and direct forms of control.
This autocratic approach to leadership worked at this time when employees were deemed to be an expendable commodity and machinery was the valuable asset in any business. But the information age demands a totally new style of management, one that is less ego-led.
The 'Primus Inter Pares' approach to leadership – first among equals – offers us a new way of managing and leading in the 21st century. With this approach all employees are seen as equals, regardless of their position or status. There is, of course, someone who has the role of ultimate decision maker, but with this approach, the opinions and individual talents are all valued and recognized.
Let us compare this approach with traditional methods of managing:
1. Letting go of control v allowing freedom within the role
There has been a strong ego-based desire among managers to feel as though they have to control their employees to keep them working productively. This keeps people in tight boxes, limits their thinking and asks of them little more than the job requires. With this form of control, comes also the threat – perform or suffer the consequences. These methods give managers further fuel that supports the atmosphere of control.
A leader working on principles of equality would allow employees have a degree of freedom within their role and the business structure. There would be recognition that the more freedom to shape their role employees are given, the more that role comes into alignment with their innate talents and gifts. This leads to people feeling recognised and of worth, as well as generating motivation in the workplace.
2. Feeling superior to others v feeling equal to others
The old, hierarchical structure supported the thinking that those in higher managerial positions were superior, more knowledgeable and intelligent, and therefore, more valuable. Those in lower positions were deemed to be inferior, less knowledgeable, and of less value and worth.
Whilst this approach holds a management structure in place on one level, it does nothing to enhance employee satisfaction, enjoyment in the role or longevity in the workplace. Managers who embrace being 'first among equals' do not see themselves as superior. They recognize that whilst they have an important decision making role to perform, this does not inherently make them a superior person. These managers drop the ego tendency of seeing themselves as "better than" and lead from a place of awareness that we all have different functions to perform, diverse opinions to add, and we all have within us a potential to fulfil.
With this willingness to see people as equal, it becomes easy to hire those who are more talented, more experienced and more knowledgeable.. This, in turn, provides huge dividends for the business and enables the manager to hire the very best.
3. Hiding your errors v being transparent about your mistakes
Traditional management practices encouraged the hiding of those practices or wrongdoings that you did not wish to expose. It was, and still is, considered essential to the ego that only a perfect image of one's self as a manager was presented.
The ego led managers into the feeling of 'cover your back' because that was the safe approach. Whilst there is still much of this in management today, it breeds a culture of lies, lack of transparency, and a very low level of trust within an organisation.
Managers who adopt the 'first among equals' approach, have an inner sense of security that enables them to be transparent. They are willing to admit their mistakes, reveal their vulnerabilities and weaker parts of their personalities. They have the level of integrity to act in alignment with Higher principles, even when it is hard.
Furthermore, these managers do not feel the need to just support their own personal development within the role. They are willing to support the growth and development of all. They allocate the time for coaching and mentoring schemes, training programmes, and personally developing the potential of their employees where they can.
The ego wants to keep people as they are, the Primus Inter Pares manager wants everyone to grow, even if it means they grow beyond the business.
To lead in this requires that managers have a strong sense of their own inherent value and worth. It is this that makes them inspirational. With this in place, they are not threatened by the knowledge, position or authority of others. This methodology, being less ego-based, is a magnet for high level employees who see such a workplace as an opportunity for their own empowerment. This, in turn, leads to a deep commitment to the business and its vision.
I believe that for the current age of information and technology, this enlightened approach to leadership that recognizes the heart and soul within us all, is the way forward for ultimate business success.