Primus Inter Pares or First Among Equals

Primus Inter Pares is a great way for leaders to frame their thinking ... focus less on formal titles and more on who is best suited to lead.

Primus Inter Pares or First Among EqualsPrimus inter pares, Latin for “first among equals” is a great way for leaders to frame their thinking around specific projects, tasks and decisions. Greenleaf used this phrase in his writing about the principles of the servant leader. The concept is simple: focus less on traditional hierarchy or formal titles and more on who is best suited to lead, given the immediate need.

Certainly, formal structure, especially in large organizations, is necessary. You could not run a Fortune 500 company or a country with frequently rotating leadership. However, in a given situation, the leader by title, may not be the person best suited to lead. Instead, as servants to their stakeholders, leaders should identify and support the individual best suited to drive results in each situation. Yet, how often do we, as leaders, fall short of this opportunity? We have tendencies to:

1.  Micro-Manage: In an attempt to display control or exert influence, titled leaders often direct details that are better handled by those closest to the environment.

2. Challenge: Titled leaders frequently challenge or second-guess the decisions of their team. This is particularly common when we are in the presence of the titled leader’s peer group and they feel threatened or lack confidence.

3. Politic: Whether for personal benefit or believing to have the best interests of the team at heart, titled leaders may make trade-offs with their peers. We sometimes think the team members closest to the solution don’t understand how things “really work”.

When we practice these tactics, we fail to support the right person as first among equals. As a result, we fail to optimize our own team, results and leadership. In short, we are not serving the organization first. So the next time you are tempted to micro-manage, challenge or politic, stop. Identify who is Primus-Inter-Pares and empower them? Who is First Among Equals in the situation and therefore, best suited to lead, for the moment? Serve your organization by supporting the first among equals.

Question: How do you ensure the right decisions are being made by the right people in your organization?


Picture of Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

2 thoughts on “Primus Inter Pares or First Among Equals”

  1. I try to establish boundaries instead of hard and fast rules. We then discuss issues which occur and decide if the boundaries are too restrictive or wrong decision made. Once we gel, the decision making process becomes easier.

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