I just watched #MargaretHeffernan’s TED talked, “Why It’s Time to Forget the Pecking Order at Work.” She opens with a story about a flock of “super-chickens,” bred over 6 generations from among the most individually productive in an ordinary flock of birds. Six more generations pass, and the “average” flock was thriving, while all but three of the super-chickens were dead. They were pecked to death by the survivors.
For Heffernan, the super-chicken experiment is a metaphor for contemporary organizations, in which the best, brightest, most productive – and often most competitive – are resourced and promoted … with catastrophic results. “If the only way the most productive can be successful is by suppressing the productivity of the rest,” she says, “then we badly need to find a better way to work and a richer way to live.”
I felt deeply moved by this story. Sure, it got me thinking about clients and organizational cultures. It’ll be great to share in workshops, too. But what really moved me was realizing – with a deep pang of regret – what it said about me.
When it came to the “pecking order,” I was at the top. A top performing student, top badge-earning girl scout, graduate of a great university, and rising star in my corporate jobs. Ambitious, “uber” responsible and prone to judgment, I knew that I knew the “best” way to do things and had all the “right” answers. Because I was “better,” I knew where I fit. Because I was a “superstar,” I felt safe.
Fortunately, I am a person – not a chicken. I did (and do) have choices. My basic nature notwithstanding, life has given me options … and more often than not, I’ve taken advantage of them. Spiritual practice, #AppreciativeInquiry, and parenting all invited me to take a step back, notice, and grow the goodness in those around me. They showed me that (as one of the flock) I could experiment, take risks, and do more than I ever could alone.
I’d like to believe these one-of-the-flock (rather than one-of-a-kind) experiences have softened me. I hope that because of them, the proverbial campsite will be a little cleaner when I leave. Periodically, I revert – sometimes in ways that hurt those I love, or keep me from doing my best work possible. But when that happens I (hopefully) see it, apologize, and step back on the path.
So here’s a message to all my fellow super-chickens – particularly those of the leaderly kind. Take a break from scrabbling and scratching and join or forge a flock! Again, as Huffernan suggests, “For years, we’ve thought that leaders were heroic soloists who were expected, all by themselves, to solve complex problems. Now, we need to redefine leadership as an activity in which conditions are created in which everyone can do their most courageous thinking together.”
As a card carrying ordinary (not super) chicken, you’re sure to be stronger, happier and more effective than you ever could have imagined.