We are all familiar with the management practices that evolved from the Industrial age from the 18th and 19th Century. During this period, managers ‘managed’ through strict practices, rigid regimes and direct forms of control. This autocratic approach to leadership seemed to work during this time when employees were deemed to be an expendable commodity and machinery was the valuable asset in any business. However, since then, we have moved on to a new age of extensive information and technology which requires a unique style of management, and one that is less dominant and autocratic.
Primus Inter Pares – translated as ‘first among equals’ – offers a new way of leading in the 21st century. With this approach, employees are seen as equals, regardless of their actual position or status. There is, of course, someone who has the role of ultimate decision maker, but with this mindset, the opinions and specific talents of each individual are valued and recognised. Moreover, the leader knows his part is to support the ultimate success of each member of the team.
Let us compare this ‘first among equals’ attitude with traditional methods of managing:
- Letting go of control versus allowing freedom within the role.
In the past, there has been a definitive desire among managers to feel as though they have to control their employees to keep them working productively. This belief holds people in tight boxes, limits their creativity and asks of them little more than the job requires. With this form of control, also comes a threat: perform, or suffer the consequences. This view gives managers fuel that supports the atmosphere of power at the top.
A leader working on the principles of equality would allow employees to have flexibility within their role and the business structure. There would be recognition that with more freedom to shape their role, employees would naturally come into alignment with their innate talents and gifts leading to optimum performance. This also leads to people feeling recognised, as well as generating motivation within the workplace.
- Feeling superior to others versus feeling equal to others.
The old, hierarchical structure supported the thinking that those in higher managerial positions were superior, more knowledgeable, of higher intelligence, and therefore, more valuable to the organisation. Those in lower positions were deemed to be inferior, mere cogs in a wheel, and of less worth. While this approach holds a management structure in place, it does nothing to enhance employee satisfaction, enjoyment in the role or longevity in the workplace.
Managers who embrace ‘first among equals’ do not see themselves as superior. They recognise that while they have an final 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, within us, a potential to fulfill. With this willingness to see people as co-workers, it becomes easy to hire those who are more talented, more experienced and more knowledgeable. This, in turn, provides enormous dividends for the business and enables the manager to engage the very best.
- Hiding your errors versus being transparent about your mistakes.
Traditional management practices encouraged the hiding of practices or wrongdoings that were not wanted to be exposed to the light of public scrutiny. It was considered essential that only a perfect image of one’s self as a leader be presented, and any form of vulnerability was shunned. The stance for managers was to ‘cover your back’ at all costs because that was the only safe approach. While there is still much of this in management today, it breeds a culture of lies, a lack of transparency and a shallow level of trust within an organisation which ultimately becomes poor productivity in the workplace.
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 slip-ups and the weaker parts of their personalities. They too have the level of integrity to act in alignment with higher principles and values, even when it is hard.
Furthermore, these managers do not feel the need to support only their development within the role. They are willing to help in the growth and success of all. They allocate the regular time for coaching and mentoring, training programmes to give people new skills and they supervise the achievements of their employees. The Primus Inter Pares leader wants everyone to flourish, even if it means they expand beyond the reach of the business.
To lead in this way requires that leaders have a strong sense of their inherent worth and the value they add to the business and the individuals that are part of it. With this in place, they are not threatened by the expertise, position or authority of others. This attitude is a magnet for high-level employees who see such a workplace as an opportunity for their empowerment and a place to make a difference. This leads to a deep commitment to the business and its vision.
To conclude, in our current age of information overload and 24-hour technology, with the millennial generation filling many of the roles within an organisation, this enlightened attitude to leadership is the way forward for ultimate business success.