On Leadership: The Shift Towards Synarchy

Posted on: February 7, 2019

One of the biggest challenges we see in today’s diverse warehousing and distribution work environments is the lack of leadership by supervisors and managers. Improvements in leadership can lead to better productivity, employee job satisfaction, and retention.

Good leadership skills are both subjective and objective. Many good leaders are born with the necessary subjective skills, but, more often, these are acquired through work and life experience and general maturity. Objective leadership skills can be taught and incorporated into daily management, often with superior results.

This month’s series of blog posts will discuss various leadership principles, including specific objective skills that can have immediate impact on your work environment.

What is Leadership?

So what is leadership? Here are several quotes from rather well-known business leaders and authors:

Peter Drucker: “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.”
Warren Bennis: “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.
Bill Gates: “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.
John Maxwell: “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”

Of these quotes, the one from Bill Gates resonates with me the most. My view on leadership is that the leader works for their employees and not the other way around. The leader’s role is to set the vision and then remove obstacles for their employees so they can help achieve that vision.

Hierarchical versus Synarchic Systems

Traditional hierarchal systems put the leader at the top of the pyramid with the strong implication that all of the employees work “for” the leader. I do not believe this is effective or sustainable in the modern work environment.

To elaborate on the words of Bill Gates, the future of leadership is one of a synarchic system, where each person in the organization works towards a shared mission. A good example of such an organization is a symphony orchestra. In an orchestra, you have a conductor, strings, brass, wind, percussion, the chorale, and perhaps a soloist. Within each of those sections you have multiple instruments and often multiple people for each instrument type. The orchestra’s goal is to play the music to a precise and passionate level and excite the audience. Different positions will have different income levels based on their level of skill and rarity of talent. They all come together under the conductor to create beautiful music. Each member is critically important. If just one member does not perform well, it can ruin the entire performance for everyone. As the leader of the symphony orchestra, the conductor’s role is to guide and empower the musicians to make beautiful music.

Hierarchal systems place more importance egoistically on each role’s placement within the hierarchy. In a synarchic system, while each position has clearly defined roles and responsibilities, egoistically each position is as equally important. Without sales, there is no revenue; without production, there is no product; without engineers, there are no new innovative products; and without accounting, the bills are not paid. Every function is critical and without each role, the company will not long survive. The goals of leadership in any company should be to guide and empower their respective employees to play the beautiful music of the company’s mission.

These ideas might feel very theoretical and abstract, but the important takeaway is the subtle shift in attitude towards effective leadership between the two systems. Too many people in leadership positions think it is all about them and that everyone reporting to them is there to serve them. I would argue that the majority of organizations are set up this way. The problem is that this is not sustainable in the long term. Employee morale and turnover can suffer greatly in such an organization.

In the subsequent blog posts this month, I will share with you tangible actions you can take to be a better leader and get the most out of those you work with.

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