Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek

Leaders Eat LastLeaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek. Portfolio Hardcover. 240 pages. 2013.
***

After listening Simon Sinek interviewed about this book on the EntreLeadership podcast – http://www.daveramsey.com/entreleadership/podcast – I decided to listen to the audiobook, which was read by Sinek, whose reading reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell. I found this to be a very interesting book that included a number of helpful case studies, research and the biological and scientific explanations for why the most successful organizations over the long-term are those that create a strong circle of safety.
The book was inspired by Sinek’s conversation with a Marine Corps General who told him that ‘officers eat last’, junior marines eating first while the most senior officers take their place at the back of the line. Great leaders sacrifice their own comfort for the good of those in their care. The stakes are much higher in military, of course, with lives at stake.

In the foreword, retired Marine Lt. General George J. Flynn writes:
“A good number of our educational institutions and training programs today are focused not on developing great leaders, but on training effective managers. Short-term gains are viewed as the mark of success and long-term organizational growth and viability are simply the bill payers. Leaders Eat Last is an effort to change this paradigm. [Sinek’s] vision is simple: to create a new generation of men and women who understand that an organization’s success or failure is based on leadership excellence and not managerial acumen.”
Simon writes that organizations that fail tend to focus more on numbers and short-term results than they do on their own people. When numbers are prioritized over people, the result is an organization where people simply don’t feel safe inside the organization. When people feel safe inside the organization – Sinek calls it a “circle of safety” – they work together in ways that lead to long-term success.

When leaders demonstrate empathy and prioritize the safety of their people, employees will give everything they’ve got to protect the organization. Inside the circle of safety mistakes are not to be feared. What is to be feared is the competition, not within our own organizations. We all have a responsibility to keep the circle of safety strong.

The author states that our jobs are killing us, using stress, anxiety and cancer as examples. He spends a significant amount of time on looking at the chemicals that he believes play a major role in creating, or destroying, a culture where employees feel trusted and safe. He states that we two “selfish” chemicals:
1. Endorphins, which mask physical pain with pleasure
2. Dopamine, which creates the feeling of satisfaction we get after we have completed a task. The flood of dopamine on a brain can operate as an incentive for progress, but there is downside – it is addictive. If an organization is heavily focused on performance, meaning dopamine is the primary means of the reward (you hit the goal, you get the bonus), we can become addicted to the numbers rather than the thing that matters most: the people.
He also writes about two other chemicals that aren’t so selfish:
1. Serotonin, the leadership chemical, is the feeling of pride we get when we feel that others like or respect us.
2. Oxytocin is responsible for the feeling of love, friendship and deep trust. Oxytocin is also contagious.
Sinek writes about leaders and organizations that inspire people to give all they have, such as:
• Bob Chapman, Chairman and CEO of Barry-Wehmiller Companies – http://www.trulyhumanleadership.com/?page_id=36. He describes his obligation to his employees as leading the sons and daughters of parents who have entrusted them to him.
• Southwest Airlines, where employees come first.
• Next Jump, which offers their employees lifetime employment – https://www.nextjump.com/
• Taj Hotel in India, which put its customers ahead of the company.
• 3M, which has a culture of sharing, innovation and collaboration.
• The Ralph Lauren Company which voluntarily owned up to a mistake.
• Costco, which treats employees like family.
On the other hand, he provides less than glowing examples from Jack Welch (GE), Apple, Wal-Mart, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, BP, and Merrill Lynch.

Other takeaways I had from the book were:

• Only about 20% of employees truly love their work.
• The importance for leaders to show empathy. Empathy is owed by leaders to everyone, all the time.
• Our behavior is significantly influenced by the environment in which we work. Bad cultures breed bad leaders. So goes the leader, so goes the culture. The leader sets the tone for the culture of the company.
• Look at your leaders and ask if you would want to be in foxhole with them.
• Bill Gore’s 150 person limit, which is the number of relationships that we can effectively manage.
• Lead people, not the numbers
• The concept of shareholder value. Maximizing shareholder value has failed. People and customers are put second.
• The impact of leadership is best seen over time.
• We often see our best days at work as those in which we had a shared hardship and how the group came together. We share the hardship as we grow closer.
• Leaders should serve employees first and they will then serve the organization’s customers and stakeholders

There was much I appreciated and benefited from in this book. My only complaint has to do with the author’s sole focus on a scientific approach. He often used evolutionary language, such as evolving into hierarchal animals, human animals, tribe, species, Mother Nature, etc. in addition to his frequent reliance on chemicals. I would have appreciated more discussion about the hearts, minds and yes even the souls of employees.

Here are several quotes from the book that I thought you might enjoy:
• If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.
• 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.
• Returning from work feeling inspired, safe, fulfilled and grateful is a natural human right to which we are all entitled and not a modern luxury that only a few lucky ones are able to find. All the perks, all the benefits and advantages you may get for the rank or position you hold, they aren’t meant for you. They are meant for the role you fill. And when you leave your role, which eventually you will, they will give the ceramic cup to the person who replaces you. Because you only ever deserved a Styrofoam cup.
• And when a leader embraces their responsibility to care for people instead of caring for numbers, then people will follow, solve problems and see to it that that leader’s vision comes to life the right way, a stable way and not the expedient way. It is not the genius at the top giving directions that makes people great. It is great people that make the guy at the top look like a genius.
• The true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own. Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest.
• Truly human leadership protects an organization from the internal rivalries that can shatter a culture. When we have to protect ourselves from each other, the whole organization suffers. But when trust and cooperation thrive internally, we pull together and the organization grows stronger as a result. Good leadership is like exercise.
• We do not see any improvement to our bodies with day-to-day comparisons. I know of no case study in history that describes an organization that has been managed out of a crisis. Every single one of them was led.
• When the people have to manage dangers from inside the organization, the organization itself becomes less able to face the dangers from outside.
• August 5, 1981. That’s the date it became official. It’s rare that we can point to an exact date when a business theory or idea becomes an accepted practice. But in the case of mass layoffs, we can. August 5, 1981, was the day President Ronald Reagan fired more than 11,000 air traffic controllers.
• 2011 study conducted by a team of social scientists at the University of Canberra in Australia concluded that having a job we hate is as bad for our health and sometimes worse than not having a job at all.
• Stress and anxiety at work have less to do with the work we do and more to do with weak management and leadership.
• It is not the demands of the job that cause the most stress, but the degree of control workers feel they have throughout their day. The studies also found that the effort required by a job is not in itself stressful, but rather the imbalance between the effort we give and the reward we feel. Put simply: less control, more stress.
• Not until those without information relinquish their control can an organization run better, smoother and faster and reach its maximum potential.
• Instead, managers must become leaders in their own right, which means they must take responsibility for the care and protection of those in their charge, confident that their leaders will take care of them. According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2013 called “State of the American Workplace,” when our bosses completely ignore us, 40 percent of us actively disengage from our work. If our bosses criticize us on a regular basis, 22 percent of us actively disengage. Meaning, even if we’re getting criticized, we are actually more engaged simply because we feel that at least someone is acknowledging that we exist! And if our bosses recognize just one of our strengths and reward us for doing what we’re good at, only 1 percent of us actively disengage from the work we’re expected to do.
• Those who have an opportunity to work in organizations that treat them like human beings to be protected rather than a resource to be exploited come home at the end of the day with an intense feeling of fulfillment and gratitude. This should be the rule for all of us, not the exception. Returning from work feeling inspired, safe, fulfilled and grateful is a natural human right to which we are all entitled and not a modern luxury that only a few lucky ones are able to find.
• Every single employee is someone’s son or someone’s daughter. Like a parent, a leader of a company is responsible for their precious lives.”
• Children are better off having a parent who works into the night in a job they love than a parent who works shorter hours but comes home unhappy.
• 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.
• If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.
• All the perks, all the benefits and advantages you may get for the rank or position you hold, they aren’t meant for you. They are meant for the role you fill. And when you leave your role, which eventually you will, they will give the ceramic cup to the person who replaces you. Because you only ever deserved a Styrofoam cup.
• The true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own. Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest.
• And when a leader embraces their responsibility to care for people instead of caring for numbers, then people will follow, solve problems and see to it that that leader’s vision comes to life the right way, a stable way and not the expedient way.
• Truly human leadership protects an organization from the internal rivalries that can shatter a culture. When we have to protect ourselves from each other, the whole organization suffers. But when trust and cooperation thrive internally, we pull together and the organization grows stronger as a result.
• It is not the genius at the top giving directions that makes people great. It is great people that make the guy at the top look like a genius.

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