History repeats itself: the Financial Crisis and the War of Peloponnese
I recently came across an article by Stefan Rebenich, a German Professor for Ancient History. The article contained a fitting description of human behaviors contributing to the financial crisis, as well as some elements of “leadership” that we can find in most of today’s businesses:
“Egoistic are their actions, reckless their striving for profit, irrepressible the drive of the individual for more recognition and possessions. In a society that is governed by competition as a leading principle, this drive peaks in the constant desire to be the first!”
Although very timely, this statement did not relate to the current financial crisis. It is a description of the Peloponnesian War by the Greek Philosopher Thucydides, and it is 2,400 years old. After the bitter experiences of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides did not believe in the moral superiority of the upper class:
“At the end of this”, states Thucydides “stands the destruction of the community through intellectual egoism and material greed.”
If we look at the parallels between the War of Peloponnese and the current economic crisis, we have to admit that evolution hasn’t been very kind to us during the past 2,400 years – at least when it comes to human behaviors. Certainly, we have landed on the moon. We have advanced technology at an impressive speed. In most countries, we even addressed the most pressing human rights issues. But we have to ask: Why are many of today’s organizations still driven by the same human behaviors that governed societies more than two millennia ago?
Dominance & Subservience - The governing principle of many organizations
We find that many of today’s businesses, governmental organizations, and even private relationships are governed by a model of Dominance & Subservience. This model of Dominance & Subservience is a Neolithic model, which we have carried with us for well over 2000 years. To this day, it dictates many of our behaviors. It is governed by ego, competition and control – and as long as we conduct business or lead our relationship based on this model, it is impossible to experience the sense of flow, purpose or well-being that most of our working population is yearning for.
If we want to build companies where people are fully engaged, where they can grow both personally and financially, where teams work together to reach a common purpose, we must break this existing model of Dominance & Subservience. We need to introduce a new leadership model, which is based on partnership and mutual respect, rather than on domination of the resources, or being subservient to a dominator.
I have to agree that breaking 2000 year old habits can be a challenging task to be added to an executive’s calendar. But when we look at this model in more detail, this is actually a task that supports the leader rather than adding more work to an already full plate.
Why? Because the model of Dominance & Subservience requires full accountability from both participants: the dominator (in businesses this is typically the boss), as well as the subservient person (typically the employee). With this in mind, the boss is not the “Bad Guy”, anymore. Once an organization changes this model, the leadership team – the top 1% of the organization – is not expending their energy and time with keeping the remaining 99% of the workforce engaged, anymore. As leaders and employees become responsible and accountable, 100% of the organization can align their energies to follow a common goal.
In working with clients, we have seen that once both the leadership team and the employees become aware and conscious about their contribution to this model, teamwork starts to flourish, respect grows, and persistent issues in the business start to dissolve, allowing the company to grow with more ease. The result can be truly astonishing: our experiences show 700% and more revenue growth within a period of 18 months.
We believe that shifting away from the principle of Dominance & Subservience is one of the most important changes we can initiate in today’s organizations. Changes are certainly required on many levels, if businesses want to survive this volatile white-water economy. However, unless we change the foundation for most of our human behaviors to a “Next Generation Leadership” paradigm, we will find that other changes are not sustainable: Unless we change the foundation, we can only find – as Thucydides outlines – that history will repeat itself.