Task Master or Liberator — Two Opposing Philosophies on Running a Company
Imagine a company is a ship. A ship from the 1800’s where you had people rowing below deck to propel it forward.
The task master CEO views his ship as a tightly controlled environment with rules that each person must obey. The task master shackles the people rowing below deck and views them as slaves.
The purpose of the ship is for it to get to a certain destination. The task master sees himself as having the role of getting the most out of the slaves so that they can arrive at the predetermined destination.
Are you imagining this ship? Do you see the slaves shackled rowing below deck with the task master at the head commanding them to row and in return giving them their daily rations?
The task master justifies running the ship this way because they themselves also row and view themselves as shackled. They are usually shackled to fear and anxiety. The only way forward in their minds is to make everyone row as hard as possible. It actually alleviates their fear to see the slaves rowing every day. It feels like progress (even if the ship is heading in the wrong direction).
Next to the task master is their right hand man, the one who holds the whip (whom I’m going to call the whipper). The whipper’s job is to make sure they get the most out of the slaves rowing. The task master wants daily reports such as how many rows were completed per minute? Only 40? Next week let’s get it to 45 rows per minute. The progress of the ship is tracked by how much activity the slaves are doing.
Any slave who steps out of line they are whipped. They are humiliated, they are told not to think, just do what you’re told. The task master’s job is to think (although in reality the task master is so busy below deck they haven’t even ventured up to see if they are heading in the right direction).
If the ship doesn’t meet the goal of progress for the week that the task master set (i.e. 100 miles) then it is someone’s fault. The task master tells his whipper to find out who’s not pulling their weight. The result is all the slaves start to point fingers at each other to avoid blame.
Eventually one or two of the slaves start longing for freedom. They don’t like being shackled and humiliated everyday. They long to be on a ship where they can contribute in their own way. Before long they escape to another ship and start telling the others how there is freedom on other ships. Those who have a heart for freedom and adventure and knew they were born for so much more than slavery find the courage to leave.
This presents a problem for the task masker and tells his whipper to maybe whip less and give more rations as a reward to slaves who meet their quota. Sometimes the whipper goes so far as to even praise the slaves who do a really good job.
The task master sees the world as a place where there’s many more slaves to replace the ones who have left. They don’t see any problem other than they need to find slaves with better attitudes, who want to row day and night. The results speak for themselves… progress… the ship is moving. They tell themselves every night that there is no other way to run a ship.
The destiny of this ship is easy to predict. There’s only a handful of ways this story can end. There’s a shipwreck since nobody was paying attention to where the ship was even going or the disgruntled crew have had enough and the reputation of the ship spreads far and wide so that nobody else wants to be a part of it or the ship wonders aimlessly in the sea never really getting to where it needs to go.
The task master sees progress every day. They don’t see the disaster on the horizon. They pat themselves on the back every day all in the name of progress.
Does this sound familiar? Have you ever been part of a company where the CEO or your boss operates as a task master? Are you discouraged thinking that this is the only way companies are run?
The good news is there’s an entirely different approach to running the ship and actually provides a better chance of reaching its destination.
The liberator CEO sees the ship very differently from the task master. The liberator’s first action when put in charge is kneeling down before every person and unshackling their chains. The liberator begins by setting the people on the ship free.
Then the liberator has a meeting with everyone on the ship. He shows them the map and the destiny for the ship. As fellow freemen he lets them know that the ship belongs to everyone and he asks them to help fulfill the ship’s true destiny.
The crew are in shock, it’s a weird feeling to be treated as free people and to be asked to participate in the ship’s destiny without being treated like slaves and told what to do everyday.
What the liberator does next is even more astonishing. He begins to ask everyone what their strengths are. He asks who’s really good at rowing? A bunch of the crew raise their hands, now that they are free they actually want to row (they enjoy rowing as free people). The liberator says thank you, and empowers them to do their job really well.
Then the liberator asks who wants to help build a sail? The sail is an idea the liberator has to use the power of the wind to move the ship so that he’s not relying on the people rowing. A group raise their hands and say they’d love to help build a sail and even have ideas on how to do it. The liberator sees a spark of creativity and passion in their eyes and tells them to make it happen.
Those building the sail go above deck and see the horizon for the first time in a long time. They are inspired, refreshed, and work harder than they’ve ever worked to complete the project. They keep wondering if it is too good to be true and if the whipper will show up asking them to “prove” they are working and measure their progress. But it never happens, the liberator just stops by every day seeing what’s been done and celebrates their work and tells them that what they are doing is incredibly valuable and appreciates it more than they know.
One of the free people on deck enjoying the view come up with a crazy idea of how to get the ship to its destination even faster. Knowing the liberator loves crazy ideas they run to the liberator where they know they’ll find him… standing on the bow of the ship with the wind blowing in his face taking it all in (sometimes even singing). Either that or you’d find the liberator down below deck jumping in for a rowing session telling jokes and laughing with everyone.
The person with the crazy idea tells the liberator that they can build this thing called an “engine” to propel the ship forward faster than anything ever thought possible. It’s risky and hard to do but they believe they can pull it off. Without hesitation the liberator gives the person what they need and says not to worry if it doesn’t work out, we need people who are willing to take a risk and innovate.
The crazy part is whenever a storm arises the entire crew pull together and find a way to navigate through the storm. No one blames anyone, everyone has each other’s backs and whenever they get through a storm you can hear the celebration and partying for days.
Actually, the task master sees a ship that’s been liberated sail by and often times hears all the laughter and sees everyone above deck drinking, dancing and being merry. The task master thinks they are crazy and lazy. He believes in his heart that they are doomed to fail.
But the liberated ship almost always ends up arriving at its destination. And the odd time it doesn’t, nobody cares because they had so much fun enjoying the journey that they find another ship where they take all their learnings and find a way to fulfill their destiny.
The liberator hardly ever loses someone to another ship. In fact, the liberator’s ship is the most sought after ship in all the seas. He never has a problem finding anyone to join the crew.
As you can see the liberator runs his ship in stark contrast to the task master. The task master has convinced himself that the liberator is crazy, borderline lazy and that people can’t be trusted unless they are measured and whipped.
The liberator believes in freedom, honesty, openness, inspiration, creativity and passion. Every once in a while someone takes advantage of the liberator’s good will but for the most part everyone feels so empowered that the majority of the crew go above and beyond all expectations.
Fear drives the task master. The task master loves control.
Dreams fuel the liberator. The liberator loves to inspire.
What ship are you on?