I feel like a reformed alcoholic. Attending the Naval Academy and working my way up the ranks of the submarine force immersed me in a hierarchical culture of command and control leadership. In this world, leadership is fundamentally about giving people direction, orders, telling them what to do. The focus of this type of leadership is on achievement, getting things done. It can be characterized by the phrase “take control.”
I now believe that is a deeply flawed approach to interacting with human beings.
The result is to turn people into followers — followers of people, that is. And it is this “following of people” that results in passivity, eschewing of responsibility, and ultimately the idling of much cognitive capacity. If what we want is for people to think, than this is a tragedy and thinking about the masses that go to work to be told what to do makes me sad.
Because thinking is, more and more, at the core of what we humans do today. As the captain of a nuclear powered submarine I realized that the most important work that happened was thinking work. Although loading torpedoes, disassembling pumps, lubricating valves was important, it was deciding when and what torpedo to load, how to disassemble the pump, and which valves to lubricate that really mattered.
The crux of the change is that leaders need to give control, not take control. This creates leaders, not followers.
But giving people control, especially those not practiced in it, is difficult. it requires acceptance of responsibility, technical competence and organizational clarity.
At the same time, our species, having developed during 50,000 years of scarcity in a physical world where preserving the present self was everything, has naturally resulted in behaviors such as a bias toward preserving the present self over future self, and an instinct for social dominance. While these behaviors allowed our species to take over the planet, they are no longer optimal for solving the vast problems currently facing mankind.
What motivates me is the prospect of releasing the vast untapped capacity for thinking among humans. My hypothesis is that by fundamentally changing our approach to leadership from leader-follow to leader-leader we will accomplish that.
I do believe that brick by brick, person by person, we can start turning this ark of humanity around.
The Declaration of Independence was a manifesto to free Americans from subjugation.
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