Senior Leaders as Serfs vs. Being Colleagues: Redefining Organizational Dynamics

Summary: Senior leaders often oscillate between two starkly different paradigms in business culture and hierarchical structures: serfdom and collegiality. These paradigms encapsulate contrasting approaches to leadership, shaping the organizational atmosphere and the workforce’s efficiency and morale.

Dear Dr. Sylvia,

I am part of a highly functioning executive team.

However, our CEO treats us like worker bees. It’s more like the surfs of medieval times. We work our tails off to please her. Yet she tells us what to do like the queen of the land.

On the contrary, we rarely have the opportunity to express our opinions. It is a finger-pointing, demanding, “tell and do” culture.

As a result, many of us are ready to quit. We want treatment as competent business leaders.

I wonder why we are stuck in such an old model of workplace behavior.

I would love to hear your thoughts.


A. Leader!

Dear A. Leader!

The old model of “do as I say “leadership still exists.

In the traditional serfdom model, the CEO reigns supreme, wielding authority and power akin to a feudal lord.

Employees feel reduced to mere subjects. It’s the “my way or the highway” syndrome. Everyone feels obliged to follow orders without question.

The hierarchical structure is rigid, communication flows predominantly top-down, with innovation stifled by fear of repercussion.

Under this model, the organization operates as a feudalistic system, with the head honcho residing in the proverbial castle, detached from the everyday realities of their subordinates.

As a result, many are stuck, maybe you, in the outdated behavior patterns of a pleaser: avoider, procrastinator, or rescuer.

Indeed, this keeps you from speaking out and being heard. Learn more from my book, “Don’t Bring It To Work.”

Senior leaders as colleagues embody a more modern and egalitarian approach.

Here is the better way: with more equality, leaders and employees collaborate. They form a team where expertise, ideas, and feedback are freely exchanged.

This model fosters a culture of trust, respect, and transparency. The leader is not a dictator but instead a mentor and facilitator.

Communication flows in multiple directions, empowering individuals at all levels to contribute to decision-making processes and organizational strategies.

The ramifications of these contrasting paradigms are profound and extend far beyond organizational charts.

In a serfdom-like environment, employee engagement and motivation tend to dwindle as individuals feel disenfranchised and undervalued.

Creativity shuts down when employees hesitate to voice unconventional ideas for fear of retribution.

Moreover, turnover rates soar. Talented individuals seek greener pastures where there is recognition for their contributions.

On the other hand, when senior leaders embrace the role of colleagues, the organizational landscape becomes fertile ground for growth and innovation.

Employees feel empowered to take ownership of their work, leading to increased productivity and job satisfaction. Collaboration flourishes as individuals from diverse backgrounds come together to tackle challenges and drive progress.

Furthermore, this model cultivates a continuous learning and development culture where leaders and employees commit to personal and professional growth.

So, how can organizations transition from the antiquated model of serfdom to the progressive model of collegiality?

Change starts with a fundamental shift in mindset, both at the leadership level and throughout the organization.

The CEO must recognize that their role is not to command but to inspire, empower, and serve their teams.

They should actively seek employee input, value their contributions, and create avenues for open dialogue and feedback.

Moreover, leaders should lead by example, demonstrating humility, empathy, and integrity in their interactions with others.

The pattern of the persecutor/bully boss changes to the visionary leader.

Simultaneously, employees must embrace their role as active participants in shaping the organizational culture.

They should strive to cultivate a sense of ownership and accountability for their work and advocate for transparency, equity, and inclusivity within the organization.

Individuals can collectively dismantle the hierarchical barriers that inhibit progress and innovation by fostering a mutual respect and collaboration culture.

In conclusion, the dichotomy between senior leaders as serfs and as colleagues represents a critical juncture in the evolution of organizational dynamics.

While the former perpetuates hierarchy, fear, and stagnation, the latter champions collaboration, empowerment, and growth. By embracing the principles of collegiality, organizations can unleash the full potential of their workforce and drive innovation and sustainable success in an ever-evolving business landscape.

To your success,

Sylvia Lafair

PS. Be a colleague, not a surf. Read “Don’t Bring It To Work“. Learn about the 13 behavior patterns that prevent success. Then, consider taking the four-module Total Leadership Development Program, which includes coaching.

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Sylvia Lafair

Creative Energy Options