Pageantry – custodians, duty and power hunger

In my home country we finished a long weekend of pomp and pageantry to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. She is said to embody a sense of responsibility, duty and service. In sport when you wear your national jersey you are seen as the custodian of that jersey for a period of time before it passes to somebody else. You may keep that particular shirt but you remember that shirt represents a position you occupy for a period of time – it does not become ‘you’. Whilst you want to shine and show you are worth your place, you realise that part of your duty is to enable others to continue to shine whilst you wear the shirt and help those around you who may be experiencing dips.  Back with the pageantry and commentators this weekend talked about how much better shape the Royal family are in now than ten years ago and the role the Queen and others had collectively played in that. Accepting a duty means you accept you represent those that have been before you in a proud way that does not tarnish it for others who will follow you – even though you help things progress. Even with all the adulation, you realise your reign passes over at some point, enabling you to retain some humility and not needing to stamp everything with your name and mark on it..

To perform this type of ‘duty’ effectively you first need to see yourself as responsible to what has gone before you and to those that co-exist with you. Royalty in the past had a very different way of dealing with those differences as a trip to the Tower of London will explain! Not even the Royals can perform in that way nowadays – but strangely some managers in organisations think that is a receipe for success! They believe for them to shine they must diminish others and redo everything that is in place – without even having the courtesy to see what has made it operate that way. They mistake the day they start as day 1 – a fresh start for everybody, and begin their own personal mission and agenda. (see earlier blog ‘AVB and Chelsea – Managing Change’ which incidentally brought many responses from followers of this blog of – “our change people are doing all the things you mention not to – no wonder it’s not working!”)

INSEAD professor Morten Hansen, in a recent publication, cites ‘power hunger’ as a huge factor in blocking people from an inclusive leadership style, which maximises contributions and creates the ‘feel good’ factor brought about by the Jubillee events. . This need for power and a desire to make others depend on them is often the thing that attracts at the recruitment stage as it appears dynamic and promises much – only to disappoint as relationships are spoilt, trust is destroyed – and people wait for opportunities for revenge! It is summed up by an ‘I know best’ attitude, a self absorption and an inability to appreciate anybody different – or even with a different perspective. Hansen also cites ‘has an attitude that problems tend to lie outside him/herself’ as a key contributor. That age old temptation to point the finger of blame at others. Sadly it is prevalent in HR where being a custodian of the right things should often be a key facet, but seldom is and HR often becomes a tool for old style leaders that execute and dispatch difference and intelligent debate – or a new and alternative power base.

Antidotes to power hunger, but keeping an achievement orientation are simple to cite (but not so easy to do)  – try these

  • listen to those with opposing views to yourself, and really hear what they are saying (and why) instead of just mentally or verbally correcting them
  • mix with people who are not just like you – gender, race and personality
  • realise when you interupt and put others down – and choose to stop doing it
  • accept that when you are blocking things which haven’t gone through you but make sense for others and the business your rational justifications are just bluster and ego defences
  • let things happen which may not be exactly what you wanted but others believe in
  • be more curious – curious is not the same as being interagative, it’s about wondering what you could be missing – and what that might say
  • realise you have a wider duty and that you too, are for a period of time a custodian and merely looking after the role – it’s not all about you

This does not mean citing a rule book and stopping everything, that’s not looking after or taking care of something. Custodian does not mean ‘jobsworth’.

Prince Charles closed the Jubilee concert with a touching speech in which he said “So as a nation this is our opportunity to thank you and my father for always being there for us. For inspiring us with your selfless duty and service and for making us proud…” 

Would those you work with say such things about you? Were you there when they needed you? Would they believe you have stood for something of value and inspired in some way – or did you just pass through either creating havoc or as white noise  – with your passing celebrated like the Jubilee, except with thanks that you are gone and no longer with them!


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