Games from cradle to grave

If you observe people from the earliest age, you will notice that human interaction is organised around the quest for power and competition.


quote All that changes is the level of sophistication and finesse quote

Who controls the game, w ho is daddy’s favourite, who plays with whom and who is excluded? These are a few issues that are often played out with perplexing results.

Boys, on the whole, tend to play with power and competition explicitly, usually directed at the mastery of concrete tasks. Girls tend to compete in the social realm. Verbal undermining, lobbying, forming exclusive coalitions and ruthlessly shunning outsiders are used as covert emotional bullying tactics.

All that changes for most people as they grow older is their level of sophistication and finesse, not the games they play. The childhood biting, grabbing, lying, sulking, throwing tantrums and stealing or messing up other people’s work continue in adult versions of this same behaviour.

Competing to impress or monopolise daddy’s attention translates into monopolising meetings to shine in the eyes of the boss. The child who wished to unseat the teacher and take power will try the same with a boss.

In childhood, you did not have the power to remove siblings whom parents preferred or classmates who were more capable than you and posed the threat of outshining you. As an adult, you do have the power to remove threats, exclude potential competitors and monopolise power and glory, especially if you are in a position of power.

The rules of how people and competition should be managed are determined by culture. Where no explicit culture exists, people make up their own, based on what suits them. More manipulative or dominating individuals will exert the greatest influence.

Culture determines not only where people fit into the scheme of things but also whether they choose to or are able to survive in the environment. For example, when the rule is that those who stoop the lowest climb the highest, people with integrity might choose to bow out rather than compete.

The most important role of the leader of any group is to be the primary custodian of the culture. In the context of power and competition, that means managing people’s roles and relationships so that everyone’s efforts are directed at achieving common objectives and values for the greatest good.

When leaders avoid confronting abuse of power or appease destructive elements, they create a moral vacuum that will be filled with conflict and exploitative self-interest. They not only fail their constituency but also create the conditions of their own demise.

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