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Our unique services at the intersection of leadership, communication, and employee engagement help our clients succeed in a fast-paced VUCA world, where ‘leadership as usual’ has proved inadequate for the challenges brought about by the digital transformation.

As the former U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower famously quipped, “leadership is the art of getting other people to do something you want done because they want to do it.”  A five-star general in the United States Army and supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe during World War 2, Eisenhower was keenly aware that leadership is not about exerting command and control. Rather, the most important task all leaders share is generating active, willing followership, also known as … engagement! In fact, today we know that nothing drives employee engagement – and, conversely, employee disengagement – like the actions of senior leaders and direct supervisors; and what connects, or actually disconnects, leadership and employee engagement is an ever-increasing communication gap that significantly decreases productivity and bottom line outcomes. 


Over the course of our evolutionary history, we have accumulated a universal, deeply ingrained conception of good leadership.

Against this background, we will together leverage the unique, game-changing insights of Evolutionary Leadership Theory (ELT). Anchored in the cognitive and behavioural sciences, ELT shows that a) over the course of our evolutionary history we have accumulated an innate and, therefore, universal conception of good leadership; b) there is mismatch between this conception of good leadership and the reality of modern workplaces.; c) this mismatch is a key driver behind the truth researchers have found in the old adage that people don’t leave companies, they leave bosses’. The main challenge for every people manager, then, is to close the communication gap by working either with or around the limitations of our evolved psychology. Working against them, ignoring them, playing them down, let alone denying them, means fighting a continuous uphill battle to secure adequate rates of cooperation. Good bye high-performing team. Hello mediocre KPIs.

Let’s dive a little deeper here. Evolution by natural selection ‘invented’ leadership as a tool for group survival (survival and reproduction of the group’s members, to be precise), and for millions of years of human evolution there would have been no boss, no chief, no dominant alpha figure in any human group. Rather, anthropological evidence suggests that control of the group firmly resided with all its members, who granted would-be leaders power in return for group-specific benefits, including the all-important streamlining of collective activities. Thus, leadership and followership evolved in lockstep as a horizontal, mutually beneficial exchange – which in many ways is the very opposite of the vertical, power-based leader-follower relations that continue to be the norm in the corporate world.


Working against the limitations of our evolved psychology, ignoring it, playing it down, let alone denying it, amounts to a blueprint for eventual leadership failure.

Whether agile or ‘reactive’, modern-day employees don’t necessarily follow their supervisors and senior leaders because they are convinced it is the right way to go. Rather, they know that disobedience is likely to be sanctioned by the powers that be. The coercive power corporate leadership is based on thus typically causes compliance, but it does so at the cost of resentment and alienation – and, ultimately, below par performances.

Indeed, the failure to build high-performing teams is endemic in the corporate world because it is systemic. Hierarchical relationships per se run counter to the selfish principles of Darwinian selection, which demand that we all strive to be a leader; that we don’t fall behind on the pecking order; that we refuse to accept subordination. We can observe this in a raw, ancestral form in still existing hunter-gatherer societies, where any attempt by powerful individuals to dominate group affairs is invariably resisted by the other group members, if need be violently. As a renowned anthropologist once put it: all men seek to rule but if they cannot, they want to be equal.
To be sure, in conjunction with HR there have been a number of steps in the right direction in recent decades: Transformational leadership, LEAN people management, Leadership 3.0, Leadership 4.0, and, as mentioned, the whole agile approach. Yet there is no denying that modern workplaces still excel at producing at best lukewarm levels of engagement, which is simply no basis for building high-performing teams. In fact, the latest Gallup score puts the figure of non-engaged and actively disengaged employees at a mind-boggling 87 percent. Imagine your reaction if someone told you that according to painstaking analysis 87 percent of the computers in your company were chronically malfunctioning, with a sizeable share of them actively doing harm, say, by spreading a nasty virus.

Modern workplaces still excel at producing at best lukewarm levels of engagement – which is simply no basis for building high-performing teams.

There simply is a fundamental, deeply entrenched misunderstanding in the corporate world about how humans are most effectively divided into leaders and followers. Indeed, without the revolutionary insights of ELT, people management remains as much of a conundrum as four decades ago when James MacGregor Burns wrote in the prologue of his seminal, Pulitzer-Prize-winning book Leadership: “Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.” That prologue, incidentally, is titled The Crisis of Leadership. Today, a never-ending stream of surveys assures us that it continues unabated.
To build and maintain a high-performing team – and more generally to succeed in a constantly changing VUCA world – you need to interact with employees in a whole new way; or rather in an ancient, ancestral way, a way that is consistent with our evolved psychology.

Leadership failure is endemic in the corporate world because it is systemic.

It has always been an essential characteristic of high-performing work units that their members ‘want to do it’ as President Eisenhower put it. Almost by definition, they are highly engaged, making independent decisions and assuming accountability to achieve shared goals, a quality that is empirically correlated with improved productivity, customer satisfaction, and bottom-line outcomes. Against this background, turning subordinates into genuine, committed followers is a sine qua non of future organizational success. Getting there, though, requires nothing short of a sea change.
It starts with a reversal of the prevailing mindset. For other people to want to do something you want done, it must make sense for them. Hence, the focus needs to shift from leadership to followership. Leadership only ever maximises outcomes if it maximises the interest of the leader’s followers; that is, followership must be a rational strategy. Maximising organisational outcomes, therefore, critically depends on leaders’ ability to create voluntary followership by satisfying the deep-seated psychological needs we have accumulated over the course of our evolutionary history. Specifically, both field and experimental evidence shows that followers want to be led in a way that meets three fundamental expectations.

What connects – or actually disconnects – leadership and employee engagement is a communication gap.

First, followers desire leaders who preserve and indeed strengthen their autonomy by enabling them to independently make effective, status-enhancing contributions to shared group goals, rather than telling them what to do and how to do it. This is the principle of liberty.
Second, followers want to be on an equal footing with both their leaders and the other members of the group. This is the principle of equality. It runs counter to the hierarchical structures prevalent in the corporate world. This does not mean, however, that leaders are powerless to fill their followers’ need to be level-pegging. On the contrary, they can minimize the adverse effects of vertical, top-down leadership by acting as a primus inter pares rather than the boss. This is what we call horizontal leadership. Moreover, every leader can actively exploit the innate human desire to vie for intra-group status by spurring the competitive cooperation that is one of the hallmarks of high-performing teams. This is to say that in well-led groups activities are coordinated in a way that makes every member strive to pull their full weight.
Third, followers want leaders who closely identify with their team. Leaders need to be seen as being aligned with their staff (rather than the company or their own superiors) and truly committed to building an effective team. This is the principle of fraternity. It reflects the deep-seated human desire to belong to a powerful group driven by mutual trust that ensures the survival and reproduction of all its members.

Leadership only ever maximises outcomes if followership is a rational strategy.

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. These were the values of the French Revolution, of course, which is no coincidence. Whenever organisations or political entities favour an elite leadership group over the rank and file, something has to give eventually. In the political arena, there are upheavals and rebellions. In companies, there are attrition and disengagement. The root cause in each instance is the same. It always starts in the heads of alienated, disgruntled, disaffected followers. People are naturally biased, indeed naturally selected, to resist the lack of autonomy, the institutionalised inequality, and the misdirected loyalties that are a natural corollary of our hierarchical corporate world.
The stark mismatch between the evolved adaptations of the human brain and the realities of modern workplaces makes leader–follower relations inherently difficult to manage. It can be done, very successfully so, but assuming as a leader that just because you are the boss people will follow you is rather a sure-fire recipe for mediocre outcomes, if not outright failure.
This is where we come in, where our expertise lies. We will show you how to communicate, how to engage, and how to lead in a way that is informed by the naturally selected best practice model of human leadership.

tHConsulting Jörg Müller

Zunftstr. 2a
D-85540 Haar
+49-89-905 428 56

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