As a child did you ever play the game King of the Mountain? For those of you who never played the objective is to be the first person to get to the top of a hill and then stay there. The game can get very competitive and nasty as the players push, shove, trip and fight to get to the top. Once you get to the top others can challenge you and it is your job to resist them as they attempt to knock you off and take your place. There was no real organization to this game. It generally ended up being a free-for-all.
Whenever I played this game I never won. I fought just like the rest of the other players and I didn’t give in or give up. But I never claimed the top of the mountain because it always seemed as though I was the smallest player in the game. Usually the bigger, stronger kids won and most of them boasted that they were the King of the Mountain.
I can still remember Bert the neighbourhood kid who always seemed to win this game. As a kid I initially envied him and wanted to be just like him. But what I grew to realize was that Bert was not a very likeable guy. In fact even though he always ended up being at the top of the mountain, his boasting lead many of us in the neighbourhood to grow to dislike him. Yes, he made it to the top but it did not take us long to stop playing with him. Bert the King became Bert the Loner.
King of the Mountain is a child’s game but this game is also being played out in many organizations. You see leaders outmanoeuvre, manipulate and push other leaders out of the way to get to the top of the organizational mountain. These leaders end up being like Bert alone and unlikeable. They look down from the top of the mountain and wonder why others won’t want to work with them and support them.
These leaders eventually realize that it is lonely at the top. They don’t realize though that the main cause of this loneliness is their own fault. In there relentless pursuit to get to the top at all costs, it is not hard to understand why these leaders don’t get the support and assistance from the colleagues they hurt as they moved to the top of the organization.
These toxic leaders, as I call them, kill morale, trust and collaboration. They create conditions which make it hard for their colleagues to work for and with someone who wants to win at all costs. These leaders create organizational cultures of distrust and fear. They do not generate true followers.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. The ego-driven, selfish and lonely leader at the top is no longer being viewed as an effective leader. These toxic leaders are giving way to what I will call the tiller leader.
These leaders rise to the top of the mountain because they care, nurture, support and back their colleagues as they move through the organization. They extend their hands and ask their colleagues to come with them rather than push them out of the way. Colleagues become followers. They commit to staying with the organization because their leadership is affirmed and their contributions to the organization are valued.
Leadership is tough enough without having to battle your own colleagues as the toxic leader does. The tiller leaders never end up leading alone. Instead of one person at the top of the mountain you have many people not only sharing leadership but also the heavy load and responsibility of leadership.
Many leaders do not start out with the intent of piling up a collection of bruised and battered colleagues as they move to the top of the organization. But in their blind ambition and competitiveness they forget those that helped them along they way and those who were prepared to help make them be more effective.
So be mindful of how you lead as you move through an organization. Don’t end up being like Bert the Loner who no one liked. He really ended up not being at the top of the mountain at all. Instead he was at the bottom of the hill lonely and wondering why no one wants to play with him. Consider being a tiller leader one who plants, waters, nurtures and grows himself and other leaders. You and your organization will be better off.