In medieval times, courage meant being the one leading the charge, shouting loudest and striking hardest, without a care for what gets trampled over. A leader was the big guy, and yes, in the medieval or earlier times, it was always a guy. A courageous leader was the fearless one who attacked and destroyed and built empires. If you cared for the meek, you were weak.
Have things changed in 300 years? I wonder. Has the world changed its view of courage? I live in the business world and most days we still see ourselves as warriors. We use terms like “in the line of fire”, “empire”, and “turf war” amongst others. Some of my colleagues have actually been in wars where people carried guns. Strangely these are the folks that are often the calmest ones. And I’ve never heard a veteran call a client complaint situation as “being in the line of fire.” There might be something for the rest of us, myself included, to learn from that.
Our favorite analogies tend to come from televised sports and even there we seem to idolize the individualistic heroes, instead of the organizers and connectors. As a huge sports enthusiast myself, the desire to pick the sports metaphor is strong.
Does leadership need to think in such a combative way in 2013? Let’s think about how we spend our day and who we spend our time with. I’ve worked in a number of different functions in a few different industries and geographies and this holds true (anecdotally) across all of them:
We spend about 70% of our time with colleagues or working individually. Colleagues are not the enemy. If you are your own enemy, this article might not be the best place to start.
We spend 20% of our time with our clients. Clients are people or firms that give us money in exchange for products or services. Some incentives might not be in perfect alignment, but we are typically committed to serving our clients as best we can, and the direction that our clients want to go is the direction we want to take them. Some course correction may occur, to keep going in the right direction, but the goal is never to be at loggerheads with our client.
Not the medieval enemy at the gates.
Some of us spend 10% of our time with vendors, where the client relationship is reversed. Again not a situation where one must lose for the other to win.
Of course, we do lock horns with competitors. But how often are you really in the room with a direct competitor? And guess what, when you move jobs, you typically move within your industry so today’s competitor may be tomorrow’s colleague. Most times, even when I have been at the same table as competitors, it has been respectful and thought provoking.
So I ask the question again – are we gladiators in a fight to the death? Or are we all part of a beautiful dance where everyone has their individual moves but it’s the sharing of the floor that makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts?
The next time you feel like you are in the line of fire, try and think of it like you are Androcles taking the thorn out of the lion’s paw. Only you understand that the lion is roaring in pain and not anger.