I recently had a conversation with a guy (let’s call him Bob) about leadership. Somewhere in this conversation we veered off the leadership road into a management cul-de-sac. Stuck. I don’t really recall how or why we turned off onto this dead end (although I vaguely remember feeling like I was watching one of those old Gestapo documentaries on PBS), but we were here and I was hearing very strange things.
We’d started somewhere in my “high-minded” philosophies about shared purpose and common threads. I assume that I’d insulted Bob at some point when he bellowed “…as my employee you don’t have to believe in what I believe in. Our agreement is that you do what i say and get a check every two weeks in return…”.
Nice. Bob’s response took me by surprise a bit. Let’s be honest, the guy wasn’t in a role where his primary focus was being a leader and motivating people to do more (or be more). I get that. But this specific response from a guy that’s been in various business administration/quasi-management roles for the last 25 years struck me as wrong on so many levels. It got me to thinking…has that command and control thinking ever really worked? I mean, even the army assimilates recruits into its command structure by indoctrinating them into its shared purpose, belief systems, and cultural mores.
The fact is, only mercenaries are motivated by financial exchange alone. I’m no historian, but I surely don’t recall any event in history where anyone received more than a short-term benefit from using mercenary armies. They tend to be
- Expensive– since allegiance goes to the highest bidder
- Risky – since they will always betray you to your enemy), and
- Detrimental to one’s long term strategy\health -there’s always the possibility that said mercenary will collude with your enemy to kill you.
Also, they can only have short-term value since no one can afford to be the highest wage bid winner indefinitely.
I’ll save you the “business is war” metaphors and say that business may be war, but its a war of beliefs and ideas- not widgets and service lines. Its simple really, people will fight harder for things that they believe in than they will for a buck. (I might be willing to die for my freedom, but I’ll never die for a paycheck). I understand the rationale behind Bob’s logic. People will do what they have to do to make a living, but we didn’t put men on the Moon with comp plans and cancer won’t be cured through salary adjustments. People have to believe and our job as leaders is to create something for them to believe in. Everything else, is short-term gains and ego ballet. Sorry, Bob.