As Hunter-Gatherers, we made collective leadership decisions-as a group. The unit needed to agree — their lives depended on it, literally. If one person wanted to go hunting, the chance of survival against wooly mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, or the elements, was slim. Only the group could (potentially) accomplish the hunting objective.
As Agrarian societies developed, leadership decision-making shifted. The group decision-making process was replaced by individual decision-making. The person (or family) who had the most (e.g., land, crops, livestock, etc.) wielded the most power. Not-so-ironically, they typically held formal positions of authority and brandished the most prestige. Does this sound familiar? This is typically how we understand and conceptualize leadership in the first quarter of the 21st century. These antiquated perceptions of leadership continue to drive leadership practices today. This is the legacy of leadership with which we currently operate.
Contemporarily, leadership is commonly assumed to be intimately connected to power, prestige, and position - as relic from the onset of Agrarian Societies. A focus on personal reward — a ‘what’s in it for me’ leadership attitude — envelopes the leadership psyche. The result are corrupt behaviors.
It does not need to be this way. We can "dig deeper" (fossil-pun intended) and pull from a leadership psyche and practice of our Hunter-Gatherer ancestors. Yes, we’re up against 10,000 years of culture — we have a long, up-hill adventure to generate cultural change around leadership mental frames. How exciting!
If we are to change our own thinking about leadership — we need to shift what we believe leadership is about — away from power, position, prestige, and personal reward. Rather, we need to emphasize that leadership is about creating resonance and acting from a place of compassion.In other words, leadership should be understood by one's authentic personhood and their intrinsic purpose for leading.
Moving forward, we need to shift our inherent leadership questions — away from ‘what’s in it for me?’ — and towards questions of depth, meaning, and significance. More so, we need to carve out intentional space for reflecting on these questions—and providing responses.
Regarding the authentic person, we can probe about:
- Who am I?
- What are my values?
- What is my vision?
Regarding the authentic purpose, we can postulate about:
- How can I engage in good, meaningful work?
- Where do my personal passions intersect with the pressing needs of my organization or community?