Thursday, August 14, 2014

Management Book Review: Leaders Eat Last

Leaders Eat Last
by Simon Sinek

Leaders Eat Last is a surprisingly bold book, with an author that is both forward-thinking (very TED Talk), yet also retro in philosophy. Simon Sinek maintains that as business leaders, we have increasingly looked at employees as statistics and cogs, instead of as human beings. Much of this new philosophy stems from layoffs and business practices of the 1980s (based on Reagan’s firing of air traffic controllers). This trend has led to leaders only looking at the bottom line. Their main goal, it seems, is to increase profit margins for their shareholders at the cost of taking care of their employees. Gone is the “Mother Merill” philosophy toward employees and its “long term greed” (be good to customers and they keep coming back to your business for years to come.) Rather, it is now all about how much profit you can make next quarter. This type of philosophy is creeping into companies and leading to poor decisions. Some of these decisions are what led to the Great Recession. He maintains that this needs to change and that there are very primal reasons we need to make these changes. It is better for employees, better for customers, better for business, and for our economy. 

True leaders have great responsibility and those that take it seriously will put their people first and their own ego last. They don’t force the organization in a direction that just benefits them and their bottom line, but one which benefits the organization as a whole. We are trained to look to leaders and trust that they will make the right decision on our behalf. When that trust is broken, chaos ensues, and that can lead to disastrous results.

The leader creates the culture of the company; they must have integrity and see their people as human beings, not just as statistics and output. Sinek places this as the top priority, which is really a return to the way most companies treated their employees before the 1980s, as people. 

This is a very powerful book that many business leaders and politicians should be reading. I have read this theme in multiple books from Thomas Piketty’s Capital, to Al Gore’s The Future. Having the main focus of making the numbers for the next quarter makes us toss everything else aside. With this mindset, we are only looking at the next three months. The decisions that we make last longer than a quarter; they last for years and decades. Short-sighted philosophies have long-term consequences. As Sinek points out in this book, this short-sightedness needs to stop. 

Favorite passages:
“What makes a good leader is that they eschew the spotlight in favor of spending time and energy to do what they need to do to support and protect their people. And when we feel the Circle of Safety around us, we offer our blood and sweat and tears and do everything we can to see our leader’s vision come to life. The only thing our leaders ever need to do is remember whom they serve, and it will be our honor and pleasure to serve them back. "

“A supportive and well-managed work environment is good for one’s health. Those who feel they have more control, who feel empowered to make decisions instead of waiting for approval, suffer less stress.”

"This is the most important lesson I can impart to all of you,” he offered. “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 goal of the leader is to give no orders,” Captain Marquet explains. “Leaders are to provide direction and intent and allow others to figure out what to do and how to get there.” 

“For leaders, integrity is particularly important. We need to trust that the direction they choose is in fact a direction that is good for all of us and not just good for them. As members of a tribe who want to feel like we belong and earn the protection and support of the group, we will often follow our leaders blindly with the belief (or hope) that it is in our interest to do so. This is the deal we make with our leaders. “

“Building trust requires nothing more than telling the truth.”

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