Saturday, February 21, 2015

Leaders Eat Last - Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek makes an impassioned plea for real leaders in our world, those leaders who look out for their people first, those who have moral integrity and courage to do the right thing. He mocks at leaders who eat first, get paid fat salaries and sacrifice the people they are supposed to lead by firing them etc. It's a fascinating book and he gives many examples of inspirational leaders who 'eat last', who put their lives in danger for the betterment of the people whom they are supposed to serve - the employees. For those who are worried about the customers, the idea is that employees who feel safe and secure will provide good work and service and thereby happy customers are a natural byproduct.

Johnny Bravo's exploits for the US Air Force in Afghanistan where he risked his life many times to provide cover to his mates on the ground is a case where the team members stand up for each other at the cost of their lives sometimes. Alone in his flight Bravo realised that the troops below needed cover, and dived down with no vision, no coordinates and just a vague idea, into a narrow valley between mountain sides. Bravo achieved his goal at great risk. Sinek wonders how people like Bravo are able to do that. They do that not for anything else, but the man beside them. And they do that knowing that the man beside them will do the same for you.

In the case of Sandiacres, the new leader Bob Chapman noticed how employees felt that the moment they stepped into work (at the sound of a bell) they lost all freedom and their faces were drained of all energy. The reason - management and workers were treated very differently - workers were treated with no trust. Bob Chapman did these small changes to build trust among the workers - all time clocks and bells were taken off, spare parts were made accessible to those who needed them (and not kept in cages), everyone got to use office phones. To earn trust, he realised he must treat his employees as people. He must extend trust. Truly great human leadership Sinek says, protects an organisation from internal rivalries that could shatter a culture. Chapman finds that a leader must take care of his employees like his own children (something that Confucius and other greats also say, and thus buys into their trust and loyalty).

In the Marines the cadets move quickly from 'Me' to 'We'. I, Me, My no longer exist, We, Together and Us is the only truth. One exists only as part of the team and not as an individual. The Spartans (the subject of the movie 300) - punished soldiers who lost their shields with the highest punishment because the shield gives protection for the entire line.The sword, spear etc did not attract the high penalty because they only compromised the individual. Then there are the Whitehall Studies - stress at work is not due to the demands of the job but the degree of control the workers feel they have throughout the day. The less control they feel, the more the stress.

There was an unnecessary digression I felt into the EDSO. Endorphine is the chemical that gives us the runners high, Dopamine is an incentive for progress, (While here he makes a case for goals that are visible - we are highly visual animals. I like that.) Serotonin is the leadership chemical - the feeling of pride. Oxytocin is the chemical for love - the feeling of friendship and deep trust. While Dopamine is about instant gratification, Oxytocin is more long lasting.

Sinek cites the case of Next Jump, a company that offers lifetime employment. Next Jumpers don't get fired, they get coached. Firing is an easy option they feel. I agree. Because everyone felt secure, the performance of the team skyrocketed. They grow at 60% a year. In a similar case, after a 30% drop in revenue Barry-Wehmiller did not fire employees and instead implemented a mandatory furlough program "so all suffer a little so none of us has to suffer a lot".

The Milgram experiment is interesting - as far as we do not see, as far as it is abstract, we will go as far as kill someone. 65% people who could not see their victim administered the killer shock in this experiment that requested teachers to administer shocks on students who gave wrong answers. 65%!!

To build trust and make it visual, Sinek proposes the following ideas. Rule no 1 -  Keep it real and bring people together. Rule 2 - Keep numbers manageable, (his magic number is 150). Rule 3 - you must meet the people you help. Rule no 4, - Don't give them money, give them time and energy. Rule no 5 - Be patient. Wait till trust develops. Be the parent.

In the final part he summarises his lessons.
Leadership lesson no 1 - So goes the culture, so goes the company. Goldman Sachs, Taj and Citibank are discussed. The Taj story where terrorists took over the historic hotel in Mumbai and killed many has the fantastic story of many employees laying down their lives to protect their customers. Leadership lesson 2 - So goes the leader, so goes the culture. Give authority to those who are closest to the information. It is the leader's job to take responsibility for the success of every number of his crew. Captain Marquet and the submarine story and how he gave ownership to the people near the information by saying 'I intend..'. Instead of 'Request permission to...'
Leadership lesson 3 - Integrity matters.
Leadership lesson 4 - Friends matter. Cooperate.
Leadership lesson No 5. - Lead the people, not the numbers. Leaders who claim all credit leave organisations with all the expertise and genius. Leaders who work to distribute power across the organisation spread the strength across the organisation. Empowering leaders grow organisations slowly but outperform directive leaders in the long run. The case of Costco vs GE, Sinegal vs Welch. Costco succeeds because it recognises that employees are like family. Employees first at Costco, shareholders next. When the economy is bad Costco gives more. For customers to love your company, your employees must love it first.

"Leadership is about taking responsibility for lives, not numbers."  This standing up for the man beside you is then the circle of safety one looks for in teams. However in the corporate world we have teams that are more and more distanced by technology, by modern notions of profit and efficiency. Your mates are sacrificed ruthlessly in the quest for profitability. Sinek bashes all the profit seeking ones who do it at the cost of their employees and proves how companies that never lost an employee, that took care of employees in tough times, had a better impact on results over time. South West Airlines was one such.

I agree with the concept of the circle of safety. It is time that the world and its leaders understand the same. It is what they must aim to build. To be a leader means to eat last - not first. Unfortunately we have many leaders who wish to eat first and sacrifice the rest. In families, in societies we need to see more of this behavior. When the weak fall, or need a rest, they cannot be dropped off. In the circle of safety, the wounded will always be taken care of. Today they are wounded, tomorrow it could be you. Investing in the circle of safety is in the group's own self-interest.

I liked his last chapter when he compares the Gen Y's attitude of the world-owes-me and the social media phenomenon and its superficial engagement. While addressing the 'distracted generation' or the Gen Y he says that they know where they are and know where they want to go but what they do not know is the journey. They give short bursts of energy and effort to causes (like the Kony cause) but no commitment and grit is shown. Sinek says ..'talk does not solve problems; the investment of time and energy by real human beings does." I agree.

I also agree that we need more leaders. Everything about the leader is lie being a parent. True leadership is the responsibility of anyone who belongs to the group. I completely agree.

This book took a long time to read for various reasons. The chemicals part was rather unnecessary I felt because it kept interfering with the flow and added no value. If chemicals flow I cannot help it can I? But the book has a lot of good takeaways and certainly one to read for leaders of organisations.

No comments: