From where do our notions about authority and leadership come? We are born with some of them. In all species that form packs, we see this behaviour: individuals are subordinating. They give in to the primitive power structures of the group. We have all these intuitions inside us that tells us that we have a certain social status in a group. The individual with the highest status have followers, eager to please.
If someone seems to be competent, chances are that we give that person high status in our group. The one who knows the surroundings best, knows where the plants most rich in starch can be found, what obstacles we will face going there, and how to overcome those. Naturally we better be following that person. Especially if the individual knows how to communicate all this and doesn't seem insecure. We tend to give such a person a high rank in the human flock.
But our intuitions cannot properly analyse what is cause and what is effect. The mechanism works the other way around as well: if someone already has high status, we tend to believe that that person also is very competent. We love to believe that our heroes, the leaders, our parents, that they are supermen. Even when the high status individual has received their rank by completely other means than by displaying competence.
Humans have left the stadium where we survive by simply looking for starch and protein on the savannah. We specialize, invent, and specialize even more. Among humans it is not uncommon that the greatest expert in a field also has the lowest rank.
We humans achieve our greatest results through collaboration. Our success depends on our ability to share visions, communicate, thinking together. When we can get all our individual abilities to cooperate. A good leader of the human pack is an individual that can make this happen.
But in our feelings regarding leadership and authority, there are traces of the more primitive notions of power and domination. When a high ranked individual, maybe a manager, meets a subordinate who is very competent, the manager's emotional system may signal that there is danger ahead. Our intuition is a little devil whispering in our ears that high competence in a subordinate is a threat to our own position in the group. The abilities of subordinates shouldn't be visible. Shouldn't be allowed to grow. We do better stopping them from shining.
Even when a manager doesn't want to think that way, the thinking may go on subconsciously and affect the behaviour of the manager. Something they often don't notice themselves.
All lean and agile ways of working are built upon far-reaching delegation of responsibilities. We who work with introducing such ways of working can witness about the resitance we often meet when it comes to the delegation of authority and letting people's abilities shine. There is often a feeling within management of losing control, and losing high ranks. Those feelings drive management behaviours that blocks the transformation. Even when the managers actually WANT the organisation to become more lean, more agile. Subconscious drivers work in mysterious ways.
Sooner or later, the notions regarding leadership must change if the organization is to become agile. Managers often need to get a whole new look upon themselves and their role. In that process, it is our feelings about authority and leadership we need to take care of.
Often you will find a former leader of the pack there, who is mourning a loss.
(Translated and adapted from this article in Swedish due to many interested).