A Culture That Hates Leadership
11-13-2015 at 10:59 AM
Category: Leadership

I was speaking with a friend of mine recently when the conversation turned to leadership, responsibility, and inequity of pay in the corporate world. He began his argument with the view that everyone in the organization is equally important and should be paid accordingly. He also expressed his frustration with how higher levels of leadership in a company are paid much more than the workers who are making the company successful. His view of middle level managers was they were no more than glorified baby-sitters, having meaningless meetings with their team to check up on the work that the team knows how to do. His over-arching view was that the higher up you go in leadership, the less you actually work compared to the workers beneath you. It isn’t right that the CEO earns four times as much (or more) as the average employee.

As I reflected on our conversation later that night, some red flags went up in my mind regarding leadership and our culture. As leaders, we need to be aware of some very dangerous views in our culture regarding the role of leaders and basic economics.

1. Leaders Don’t Really Work
Obviously, this pervading view is held by people who are not leaders. Great leaders are not babysitters. They inspire and elevate others to succeed. They think, plan, and strategize for the betterment of the organization. Yes, that includes all those “evil people” called shareholders, who gave money to the company to hire all the workers in the first place. Great leaders accept the responsibility of growing the organization and providing for their employees. Do they lift heavy loads and do physical labor? No, but the load of responsibility they carry is heavy. The work they do has impact on hundreds of lives. They live with that responsibility 24/7.

2. Leaders Are Not More Important than the Lowest Level Employee
I would argue that each person in the organization has value. Value as a person and deserving of proper dignity. However, I would say that the CFO is more important to the health of the organization than the mail clerk. This is not to say that the mail clerk has no value as a person. In terms of the organization, if the mail clerk is stealing office supplies, the department he or she works in will suffer a little but the organization will continue on. If the CFO is embezzling millions of dollars, the organization could potentially close its doors. The result is hundreds of families now out of work and their personal finances in jeopardy. So, from this perspective, who is more “important” to the health of the organization?

3. Everyone Should Be Paid Roughly the Same
This idea shows a true lack of understanding of basic economics. If you have a resource that others want there is a price for it. If the resource is limited, then the price goes up. If there is more supply of the resource than a demand for it, the price goes down. Skill, knowledge, and experience are no different when it comes to pay.
An engineer is paid for their knowledge and skill. This will be higher than the mail clerk whose job requires much less skill. The engineer has spent a great deal of time and money learning the craft and honing their skills. Are they not worthy of honor (aka salary) that matches that experience? Studies and history have shown that when people are paid equally for unequal effort, those who originally gave extra effort stopped giving it. Those who gave little effort gave even less. The result is a group of people who accomplish little or nothing but expect to be given the rewards of hard work.

Have you had this conversation with someone?
How do you view leadership and organizational structures?

Keywords: leadership, culture, organization
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