Leadership: Time to Revise the Sink or Swim Approach

In today’s guest post Fiona Rutherford shares on the topic of leadership as she proposes:

"Leadership: Time to Revise the Sink or Swim Approach" A guest post by Fiona Rutherford

Leadership: Time to Revise the Sink or Swim Approach

By Fiona Rutherford

‘The survival of the fittest’ is a phrase that gets thrown around quite a bit in conversations about great leadership, but do we understand its true meaning?

This cold, unsympathetic Darwinian concept is commonly applied to the workplace environment. For example, the ‘sink or swim’ approach is a method of leadership development used by several organisations. It involves throwing employees into the deep end as a way of differentiating between ‘The Sinkers’ (weaker employees who are unable to adapt to change) from ‘The Swimmers’ (stronger employees who are able to adapt and therefore are selected to be leaders).

There are also circumstances when the terms ‘the survival of the fittest’ and ‘every man for himself’ are used synonymously. Especially in our increasingly competitive society, both terms can be used as an excuse for selfish and brutal conduct within the workplace, between businesses and even in everyday life situations.

Although Charles Darwin is often credited with coining the phrase ‘the survival of the fittest’, it was actually coined by a Philosopher named Herbert Spencer. Its initial meaning had nothing to do with ‘sink or swim’ approaches and ‘every man for himself’ tactics. Quite the opposite, ‘survival of the fittest’ has everything to do with altruism, teamwork, cooperation, support and togetherness – the very last words typically associated with this phrase!

The word ‘fittest’ has created much confusion, since the modern use of the word ‘fit’ conjures up an image of a strong, agile and healthy individual. However, in evolutionary terms, it is more about being ‘fit’ for purpose.

Using the true meaning of ‘the survival of the fittest’ concept, below I’ve suggested 3 tips that could help expand your understanding of what makes a great leader.

1. Cooperation is everything!

Great leaders understand that everything in life is about cooperation. In basic biology, for example, we are taught that our organs must cooperate with one another and work together in order to function properly and survive. Darwin proposed that people tend to perform better as a group and consequently teamwork has spread throughout the population. With this idea in mind, in order to maximise group performance and success, a great leader will ensure that each team member has their own unique role, which is recognised, appreciated and valued.

2. Bonding with team members!

Having a close-knit team is crucial. A great leader will appreciate that within all groups, there will be conflicting ideas and opinions, therefore in order to achieve a common goal there needs to be a strong bond between all team members. For great leaders, bonding is also about connecting on a personal level, ensuring team members feel comfortable enough to express their thoughts and feelings.

Abraham Lincoln, thought to be one of the greatest leaders of all time, is a perfect example of this. He was known for surrounding himself with team members who would openly question his authority and who were unafraid of arguing with him. He would also make himself very available to his team members by holding regular office hours.

3. Altruism is fundamental!

Great leaders can be kind, caring and considerate, without being a pushover. It’s important to have a genuine care for each member of your team. Instead of leaving ‘The Sinkers’ to sink, it’s essential to encourage and assist them with developing any strengths and improving their weaknesses, as long as they’re willing to learn. Altruistic leaders can inspire team members to act in the same way, thereby creating an honest and pleasant working environment.

About Fiona Rutherford

Fiona holds a BSc (Hons) in Psychology with Neuroscience and is embarking on a Masters Degree in Evolutionary Psychology. She is also working part time for Hubworking, contributing to their social media activity. (Find Hubworking on LinkedIn, follow them on Twitter or connect with Fiona and the rest of the Hubworking team on Facebook)





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