Friday, 23 November 2012

Survivor - leadership study on a Saturday afternoon.

I'm hooked on the television show, "Survivor".  It's the 25th series, but I've never watched it before.  Now that I've discovered the show, I'm not sure how I've been oblivious.

This season is set in the Philippines and life is hard.  The setting is beautiful, but the rain is consistent, the food is basic and the challenges are physically tough.

I happened to turn on the television last Saturday afternoon and the first episode of the season was on, followed immediately by the second episode.  I quickly became absorbed.  It was great study for the leadership and team work that I am currently facilitating with some clients.

I watched as people who clearly wanted to be leaders, pretended that they didn't want to take on that role.  They then turned into the worst kind of autocrat, bossing around their fellow tribe members and barking orders with the expectation of no consultation.  It was interesting to watch the reactions of the people being bossed.  They disengaged and started to plot the demise of their resident dictator.  It was clear from their comments that they felt disrespected and undervalued.

Equally interesting was seeing people who carry leadership with them just by the way they are in the group.  They don't assert authority but they win respect by engaging with the people around them, being diligent in their work and contributing positively to the welfare of the group.  They become seen as leaders by the group.  This is what I call informal leadership - there's no formal designation, but a person can still be the leader.

I was recently working with a group of people who are seen by the business as being in leadership positions.  Interestingly, the people themselves did not see themselves as being in leadership positions, or as having any leadership responsibility.  They were leading projects and agendas rather than a specific team of people.  They didn't accept the idea of informal leadership and railed against the idea of being leaders at all.

Ironically, one of them raised "Survivor" as a leadership example.  They talked about the scheming and political aspect where people are often lying to each other because ultimately "Survivor" is a game which requires players to work with their fellow tribe members to build a world, while plotting and scheming to be the last person standing.   They used this idea of selfishness to justify their views that openness and honesty are not requirements of leadership.

I despaired.  The ultimate end of this argument is that they see their workplace as being a brutal, winner takes all environment.  I have no doubt that many places are like this, but I know that's not the current reality at this place.

Anyway, I'm keen to see more of "Survivor" and what happens when the numbers reduce even further.  One tribe has already been decimated with the remaining two players, Malcolm (swoon) and Denise being merged into the other two tribes.  Joining an already established group can be tricky and it's been interesting to see the delicate dance as people check each other out, trying to determine whether they are a friend or a threat and determining allegiance.

I think this is what's so addictive.  We are all doing this kind of thing everyday.  Watching a group of people in a pressured environment is fascinating.  I can't believe I have missed twenty four years of this study!

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