Five Percenters

Maybe you've seen the articles suggesting that a structural revolution is in order.  That what we need to "unleash" our true potential (potential that is apparently always tied to a stake in the backyard) is to eliminate hierarchies, titles, office walls... maybe even chairs.  That for maximum effectiveness everyone should be his or her own boss.

Baloney.

Here in the United States, the average business (excluding self-employed individuals) has twenty employees.  Most of you work in larger organizations than that, but let's say we represent a cross-section of the U.S., and probably the developed world at large.

In an average business, then, nineteen people look to one person as the primary leader.  More than that, they rely on that leader. Much of their success, their satisfaction and their financial stability relies on that leader.  And that broad influence extends to their families, then to their communities.  Even more, it extends - through the employees' work - into the lives of customers and partners, and their organizations and communities.

That's why you matter so much.

As the leader, everything you do carries significant weight.  Your demeanor, your values, your thinking, your methods... they ripple across a much larger swath of the world than you might think.

And that's OK.  Human beings are oriented to social structures, to authority.  We want to know our place, and the limits.  Such knowledge gives us a secure platform from which we can thrive, from which we can use our abilities to contribute with maximum effect.

That's why we don't just set children loose and say, "Figure it out, kids."  The only thing surprising about The Lord of the Flies was that they didn't start eating each other.

That means leadership is both an opportunity and a challenge.

It is an opportunity to influence, for the better, that much larger swath of the world.  To bring long term success and stability to many more people than just those faces we see regularly.

It is a challenge because it is complex.  It is never-ending (my paraphrase of the Second Law of Thermodynamics:  by nature, everything is always breaking down).  It is a burden, to be honest.

But I read somewhere in a famous book that "to whom much has been given, much is expected."  Nowhere is that truer than in leadership, where the five percenters constantly make decisions that affect the whole:

  • How will I emotionally respond to this?
  • To whom will I entrust this task?
  • Does this person's approach take us in the right direction?
  • Is it time to take action?
  • Who else should take the lead here?

Your influence leads the organization wherever you choose: into complete failure, consistent mediocrity, widespread dysfunction, or a thriving culture and a healthy business.

So count them up.  How many people are relying on you?