Relationships between a leader and subordinates can be based on various emotions – love, fear, respect – that translate to different types of leadership. All these leadership types can be observed in the wild among different gregarious animals, especially among primates. Each one is best suited to a particular case.
During a crisis, war, or external threat, people rally around a leader. Subordinates compromise their freedom and independence for a directive and uncompromising leader. The leader does not care about how they’re perceived by subordinates, while subordinates judge a leader solely by how efficiently they respond to an external threat – they can feel fear, hate, or disdain toward the leader and at the same time consider them a successful executive.
Such a leadership style is typical for hard-line authoritarian regimes, armies, or organized criminal groups. Or when your business is suffering a cash shortage.
In stable economic conditions, when there is no threat to business survival, the situation is different. If a leader is ignoring feelings of subordinates and shareholders, workers may leave their jobs for other employers, and shareholders may sell their stock. Therefore, leadership should be based on other principles.
Business management is not really different from leadership in a troupe of primates – in terms of evolution, humans separated from their ancestors not so long ago. Primate leaders not only “explain” (through actions), but also hint at what they want. A leader can be looking in a target direction without moving there and other primates shall sense, and act according to, a leader’s intent.
To achieve this level of mutual understanding within a team, subordinates should be able to recognize what a leader wants. This requires openness in a leader. Subordinates should understand their manager’s private life, interests, fears, and hobbies. It is not required to share everything with them, but a good leader lets subordinates into his world.
A leader should remember, however, that self-restraint is a part of openness and behave more modestly than they would with others. A permanent focus on differences in social, economic, and professional standing really hinders effective communication.
A leader should know as much as possible about subordinates, both consciously and subconsciously. It is impossible to manage people and inspire them without being aware of what matters to them and what is needed for them to perform at their best. This entails a broad range of information, including professional and personal goals, families, weaknesses, interests, preferences, and dislikes.
Yet, awareness is not a goal, but a process. Regular contact with subordinates not only supports a high level of leader openness – but also offers a source of up-to-date information.
Such information is needed to develop an individual style of communication with each subordinate. For instance, leadership among primates is largely expressed with signs. In this case, a style is essentially a set of individual non-verbal signs that effectively influence someone else.
Finally, knowledge can be a lever used to enable or pressure a person.
The number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships at any given time is called Dunbar’s number. On average, it is limited to 150. With 100 subordinates, it would be impossible to get to know everyone well enough – because you should also maintain relations with colleagues from other companies, your relatives, and friends. Therefore, you should clearly define an immediate circle of 10-30 people to get to know.
If your team is significantly larger, this structure should be maintained by others as well. Meaning that if your team includes 20 people, and each of them also has a team of 20, you will have an efficient system for managing 400 employees.
From your immediate circle of subordinates, you should select favorites and develop them up to a proper level. Such advancement should be systematic and can be achieved through regular formal and informal meetings. These individuals can become the most devoted members of an immediate circle within a leader’s team.
In addition, while developing communication with an immediate circle, a leader should be aware that their team members are also adopting their leadership style. This does not mean that all people at Facebook communicate the same way as Zuckerberg, but he is definitely influencing the general atmosphere.
The Sopranos can be seen as a good example of a properly organized business. In his work, Tony Soprano was relying on full engagement from the group members into each other’s life – their relations were based on the principle: “We always do everything together”.
- Proper reward
It is essential to remember that subordinates should only be rewarded for high performance.
For instance, quarter results are not good enough, but still, leaders can make the decision to pay a bonus to a erson in order to encourage them to work better. In this case, the employee would subconsciously remember that no progress is also rewarded and would not strive to improve performance while still expecting to receive a bonus.
Besides, a reward should not always be in monetary form. A leader can symbolically reward employees by sharing information about themselves, e.g. some personal history. In this case, a subordinate is, in a way, still being distinguished among others.
- Control of subordinates’ cognitive strain
The human brain has two major neural networks – the task-positive network (TPN) and the default mode network (DMN). For a normal person, they are continuously in conflict: activation of the TPN tends to suppress activity in the DMN, and vice versa. The TPN is important for dealing with practical tasks, solving exact problems, often according to ready templates. The DMN is related to emotions, communication, and creativity.
Different brain regions are not strictly subordinate to each other; connections between them operate in both directions. Thus, if a person is taking part in a brainstorm or a creative session, the DMN activates, while the TPN is suppressed. If a person is writing code, filling in an Excel table, or making some calculations, the TPN activates and the DMN deactivates.
A leader focusing on tasks of only one type (i.e. typical either for the TPN or for the DMN) is causing excessive strain for their subordinates in one of the two cognitive systems. Moreover, continuous domination of one of the systems has been shown to induce a whole range of mental disorders, as well as mental exhaustion and occupational burnout.
Therefore, a leader should rotate tasks of different types in their team’s work: discussion of a sales funnel and then, a couple of hours later a collective brainstorm. Another approach is to use available knowledge about subordinates. A leader should make sure that a person is switching between the two systems when out of duty, e.g. an employee writing code (TPN) has a creative hobby (DMN).
Domination of one of the systems can result in disorders, exhaustion, and burnout. Therefore, a leader should first and foremost mind their own mental state and regularly switch between the TPN and the DMN.
The interconnectedness between the two systems helps improve the flexibility of switching between them. If a leader is too social, this means that their DMN is more developed. Strict time management, regular exercises in solving practical tasks or even mathematical problems might help such a person.
If a leader is overly focused on KPIs, his TPN has the dominating role. In this case, collaboration with employees could help – regular collaborative meetings promote activation of the DMN.
If you need to efficiently manage a group, select a small team and learn as much as possible about each of their personal and professional lives. It is essential to be as open to one’s team as possible and to continuously maintain personal and professional contacts with team members. Clarity of your intentions, openness, predictability in the assessment of their efforts and understanding people’s preferences in exchange for their understanding of your aspirations are much more effective than closeness and terror-based leadership. This is also a form of influence, but it will not enable you to get followers or doers. Such relations are always being tested, and in a healthy economic environment, any new circumstances could pose a threat for a leader to lose people or their support.
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