Who Packs Your Parachute?
From an evolutionary perspective, we’ve always given our leaders first choice of meat, and first choice of mate. Physical strength, hunting skill, and athletic prowess indicated a man’s ability to protect his mate and his offspring from danger. These traits also increased the likelihood that their offspring would survive, and also increased the success of copulation if they were well fed. These abilities also contributed to the male’s overall wealth and power and allowed him to invest those resources into their potential mates. The meat was a form of political power, and these alliances allowed the strong to have access to weapons and defend their friends from predators. While long-term mating strategies focus on parental effort and ability, short-term mating strategies focused on genetic benefits. The immediacy was a good plan for the survival of the species, as not only was the hierarchal structure set up to produce the strongest offspring, but the weaker also benefited as they received protection. That was the trade-off. The chief received the first choice of meat and first choice of mate, ensuring that desirable genes would be passed on, but when it came time for war, the expectation was that he would sacrifice himself to save everyone else.
Author Simon Sinek believes that this is why we are so disgusted by the actions of Wall Street and the Government, among others. “If our leaders are to enjoy the trappings of their position in the hierarchy, then we expect them to offer us protection. The problem is, for many of the overpaid leaders, we know that they took the money and perks and didn’t offer protection to their people. In some cases, they even sacrificed their people to protect or boost their own interests. This is what so viscerally offends us. We only accuse them of greed and excess when we feel they have violated the very definition of what it means to be a leader.”
We’ve always been ok with our bosses making more than us since the rewards they receive were in exchange for protection and looking out for the best interests of their people. That was the social contract. However, consider:
- The CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Mark Hurd, who earned $24.2 million in 2009 as the company laid off 6,400 workers.
- Walmart CEO Michael Duke, who earned $19.2 million as the company laid off 13,350 workers.
- Fred Hassan of Schering-Plough, by far the highest-paid layoff leader, last year pocketed nearly $50 million. Hassan received a $33 million getaway gift when his firm merged with Merck, while 16,000 workers were receiving pink slips.
- American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault took home the highest 2009 pay, $16.8 million, a sum that included a $5 million cash bonus. American Express has laid off 4,000 employees since receiving $3.39 billion in TARP funding.
- CEOs of major U.S. companies average 263 times the average compensation of American workers,
- The overwhelming majority of the layoff-leading firms — 72 percent — announced their mass layoffs at a time of positive earnings reports.
- The $598 million combined compensation of the top 50 CEOs in our layoff leader survey could provide average unemployment benefits to 37,759 workers for an entire year — or nearly a month of benefits for each of the 531,363 workers their companies laid off.
This era of autocratic leadership in the United States would appear as no accident. Following World War II, and the understandable desire of returning veterans never to have their children experience what they did, led to an era labeled “The Century of the Self.” Combined with Milton Friedman’s theory of “shareholder value” that emerged in the 1960’s, and you have a recipe for ethical disaster. Our victory in World War II was a prime example of collectivism at work and fostered an interdependent focus on our large social networks. Simply put, we looked out for our neighbor.
During the last 70 years, of which we enjoyed decades as an industrial monopoly due to the destruction of Europe and Japan during the War, individualism became possible. The advertising industry was born, consumerism emerged, and people began to focus on their self-interests rather than the interest of the whole. Scarily, this egocentric view has become our collective social identity, as evidenced by behavior on the internet, reality TV, and the self-help industry.
Charles Plumb was a Navy jet pilot. On his seventy-sixth combat mission, he was shot down and parachuted into enemy territory. He was captured and spent six years in prison. He survived and now lectures on the lessons he learned from his experiences.
One day, a man in approached Plumb and his wife in a restaurant, and said, "Are you Plumb the Navy pilot?"
"Yes, how did you know?" asked Plumb.
"I packed your parachute," the man replied.
Plumb was amazed - and grateful: "If the chute you packed hadn't worked I wouldn't be here today..."
Plumb refers to this in his lectures: his realization that the anonymous sailors who packed the parachutes held the pilots' lives in their hands, and yet the pilots never gave these sailors a second thought; never even said hello, let alone said thanks.
Now Plumb asks his audiences, "Who packs your parachutes? Who helps you through your life? Think about who helps you; acknowledge them and say thanks."
As scarce resources dwindle, perhaps we can transition from a self-centered view of the world and focus on how we can best help others, which is the social contract of civilized society. Effective "leadership" is the piece of that puzzle that creates interdependence, and it cannot exist “on an island.”
Leaders Eat Last Quotes by Simon Sinek - Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/21977839-leaders-eat-last-why-some-teams
CEO PAY and the GREAT RECESSION - Ideas into Action, http://www.ips-dc.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/EE-2010-web.pdf