Territorialism, space and leadership

As humans, what makes us territorial? What makes us draw boundaries around others and expect them to adhere to those boundaries?

When you try and behave in a territorial manner, it is detrimental both to the business and to your peers and as a leader, being territorial makes you seem weak and insecure. It puts you in a spot of needing to control and not essentially keeping in mind the objective needs and the outcomes that need to be driven.

On many instances, you will see leaders overstepping and wanting to not just own and control their own mandate but also try and extend their influence and their opinions on how you run your mandate and role. There is a distinctive difference in the approach when it is professional and friendly with intent to help versus when it is damaging, overbearing and intrusive. 

Territorialism involves exercising close control, which means taking away freedom from the people around you and as a leader, it means disempowering your team or your people. Also, with territorialism, creativity at the workplaces gets directly impacted and creative teams may feel stifled and limited when subject to this treatment. 

With organisations being desirous of creative and design thinking as a prerogative for the people they hire and work with, territorial marking can make creativity elusive and difficult to nurture. When the world is progressing to future of work and workplaces and roles and expectations are getting modified and changing the landscape of the way work itself is being looked at, insecure territorialism can be detrimental to growth in that context as well. 

Marking territory is something to be aware of as a leader in two ways… 

  1. To identify and address someone trying to mark their territory and encroaching yours 
  2. To identify the territorialism needs within us and addressing them before they manifest

Always, going the offensive or defensive way doesn’t work well to ward off territorialism and sometimes, it could be wrongly identified as well, while all it is, is probably well intended extension of help, which has been misconstrued. So, it is good to probe and reflect on the behaviour and arrive at what it exactly is. 

Collaborative creative processes thrive on open cultures and transparent conversations whereas insecurity works at loggerheads with this logic, so it is better to change the dynamic if it is hurting the creativity and atmosphere. 

Territorialism drives individualistic ownership while collaboration drives collective ownership and innovation and ideation work far better in collaborative communities. 

How do you deal with it: 

  • Identify it right
  • Point it out and speak up
  • Gently explain and push back
  • Try more collaborative approaches
  • Try conflict resolution methods
  • Let them take the opportunity, hand it over
  • Allow them to make a case for why there is insecurity or otherwise

Here’s a quote from a Feng Shui context, which does it very well in context of leadership and territorialism:

“The territorialism and desire to possess things comes directly from the ego, which strives to own and control things. Your spirit already knows you own nothing. It is a matter of realising that your happiness does not depend on your ownership of things. They help you in your journey, but they are not the journey itself.”

― Karen Kingston, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui


The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Shreya Krishnan
Vice President - Marketing and Communications at Anviti Insurance Brokers
Shreya is a CSR Specialist and Corporate Grooming Consultant. Her interests lie in Activism, Dance, Theatre, Poetry, Blogging, Modelling, Acting. She considers herself an Earth Warrior and is an Event Anchor and Trainer. She is a Pageant Winner and public speaker.

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