Think you’re not a leader, think again.
Maybe you believe a leader is someone who runs a company, big or small. Or someone who is responsible for employees and who makes all the big decisions.
Leadership actually takes place everywhere. From parenting, to starting your own business to being on your condo board or even taking on a role in a club or group. Virtually everywhere in life we will get a chance to be a leader, if we choose to take it.
As a coach who’s niche is the areas of courage, communication and connection, it may seem out of context to see me reviewing a book on leadership. But leadership actually plays a prominent role in many of my client’s sessions and it is an area of strong interest for me personally. Without the skills of courage, communication and knowing how to create a connection, you will not be the type of strong leader those in your charge will need.
I’ve spent close to 30 years in the corporate world. I’ve worked for 7 different national, as well as, international firms. I can count less than a handful of excellent leaders I have worked for. From CEO’s to VP’s to area or regional leaders, many were not ones I felt any loyalty towards.
When I use the term, good leader, I mean ones that I believe in and would be loyal to. And the others? They’ve helped to form my very strong, negative view on corporations or large national organizations.
So when I first came across speaker and author Simon Sinek and learned how he felt leadership needed to change, I found myself pounding the air with my fist shouting, “YES! Finally somebody gets it!”
Sinek has written several books, I love them all. But for the purposes of this review I chose to focus on his second, Leaders Eat Last.
As a coach the author’s theory and focus resonates with me. This is why I recommend his books for anyone wanting to improve their leadership skills. Right out of the gate, on page 8 of the book, he speaks to the value of empathy. One of the major, “soft skills” I help clients cultivate on their coaching journeys.
Sinek’s writing is full of examples both good, Captain David Marquet a career submariner, Bob Chapman owner of Barry-Wehmiller, and bad, Goldman Saks, Citigroup, Stanley, O”Neal of Merrill Lynch.
In chapter 1 Sinek uses the example of the firm Barry-Wehmiller and how the company began to change when the new owner simply showed the willingness to listen. Because of this, empathy and trust were reintroduced at the firm. This was demonstrated by treating all employees as human beings. An example, no more time clocks. To bring trust in Chapman knew it had to be earned. To do that you must first treat employees as people. Your position, rank or education were irrelevant, treat every employee as a person.
This change was one that helped turned the company around and replaced employees sense of obligation with one of pride. The company flourished as a result. Trust and Listening , 2 life skills I help every single client with.
Happy, inspired, fulfilled employees are the exception rather than the rule in many companies. The Deloitte Shift Index says 80% of people are dissatisfied at their jobs. Is it any wonder why there are more and more career coaches showing up in the world!
What is the cost of staying in a job we hate. “Happiness, health, life and death. Levels of depression and anxiety among people who are unhappy at work were the same or greater than those who were unemployed”, says Simon.
I can attest to that. Years ago I had an emotional breakdown at a large insurance company I worked at. I hated my job so much. We had a revolving door of employees leaving every week. They weren’t fired, they quit. We joked about taking bets on who would be next. The gossip was rampant. It got so bad for me that eventually I went off on stress leave. Only after I had a melt down one day while home from work for lunch. I simply could not go back.
Leaders need to work hard at creating trust with their employees. Back to Bob Chapman, the owner of Barry-Wehmiller, “There was no “one thing” that Chapman did to transform his organization. It was a series of little things that, over time, dramatically affected how his company operates. “Lots and lots of little things, some successful, some less so, but all focused on what he understood in his gut needed to happen.” When I read this I was of course reminded of researcher Brene Brown when she describes how trust is earned, in seemingly insignificant small moments.
Trust. It’s something that many people struggle with. If you’ve spent any time working for a corporation, as I have from the late 80’s until today, then you may have felt more than once, that the company you worked for didn’t trust you. In turn you came not to trust them.
Have you ever worked under a micro manager? Did you find yourself making more mistakes than usual when reporting to that person? This is usually because of lack of trust. I love how Sinek explains one of a leaders responsibilities in order to get the best from their staff. “ The responsibility of leaders is to teach their people the rules, train them to gain competency and build their confidence. At that point, leadership must step back and trust that their people know what they are doing and will do what needs to be done.”
It is every leaders job within a company to create a safe environment for their employees. Sinek came up with the concept of the Circle of Safety in his first book. Start with Why.
He describes it this way: “ Intimidation, humiliation, isolation, feeling dumb, feeling useless and rejection are all stresses we try to avoid inside the organization. But the danger inside is controllable and it should be the goal of leadership to set a culture free of danger from each other. And the way to do that is by giving people a sense belonging. “By offering them a strong culture based on a clear set of human values and beliefs. By giving them the power to make decisions. By offering trust and empathy. By creating a Circle of Safety. “
“Without the Circle of Safety created by a companies leaders,” says Sinek, “paranoia, cynicism and self interest prevail. A strong Circle of Safety creates a feeling of belonging, collaboration and trust & innovation.”
“We feel no loyalty to a company whose leaders offer us no sense of belonging or reason to stay beyond money and benefits.”
I found it interesting to learn a bit about the science behind the Circle of Safety concept. It has always resonated with me since I read about it but in this book Simon shares the biological reason why it’s so important.
It’s about the selfless chemicals of serotonin and oxytocin that the body emits when we feel safe and trust exist. Experiencing these chemicals within us keeps the Circle of Safety strong. Because of them we pull together to accomplish bigger things.
Rarely have I felt these chemicals in any corporate job I have held. In looking back on my work life, the few times I felt I truly trusted a manager or felt any loyalty to them because they had created a sense of trust, it was often those leaders who actually ended up being the ones removed from the company as we downsized and went through a merger. Back in those days they would have been the managers who weren’t “towing the company line.”
What we’re really talking about here is changing the culture. Something I believe most executives and managers don’t want to work on. Why? Because there is a cost, a monetary cost to doing this work. It’s an intangible. You can’t measure culture, but you can sure as heck feel it.
You can’t force someone to change their attitude, but with a Circle of Safety, more oxytocin and serotonin you can help them change their own attitude about where they work.
Oxytocin’s is behind the feelings of trust and loyalty. Cortisol is behind feelings of fear, anxiety, discomfort and stress.
The bottom line here is we are dealing with people, not machines or numbers. People have feelings, individual thoughts and lives. We also have needs beyond, food, shelter and a pay cheque. When employees are treated as a valuable commodity, one to be respected, trusted, valued and needed, they will produce for and support the firm in a far greater way than when these “ways of being” are not present.
“When this happens, our bonds grow stronger, our loyalties grow deeper and the organization gains longevity, “ says Sinek.
The entire concept “to treat people like family and not as mere employees. To sacrifice the numbers and not sacrifice the people to save the numbers”
I have never in my 34 years of working ever had a company that functioned this way.
I’ve learned, from reading this book, that according to Sinek, there is a very good reason that I have never experienced any of these ways of leadership. It’s because I began my working career in the late 80’s. That is when the whole corporate world began to change dramatically from what my parents generation knew.
Sinek gives us a succinct and easy to understand explanation of exactly how and where the business world and corporations, in particular, began to change to what they are today.
August 5, 1981 was the day people became disposable.
This was the date of the very first mass layoff in North America. Ronald Reagan laid off 11,000 air traffic controllers in on fell swoop. “This set the tone for what was now acceptable and unacceptable behaviour inside an organization. Thus there was now a precedent of protecting commerce before protecting people.”
The book continues to go through history and share how businesses began to change from the old way of valuing employees to valuing the bottom line. It introduces the concept of The Shareholder Value Myth, as written by Lynn Stout of Cornell Law School. We also learn about how and why companies create arbitrary numbers for sales staff to hit. Then say they didn’t earn as much as last year when they don’t hit those “made up” numbers.
I could go on for another thousand words expressing my excitement about all of the things that Sinek calls out that are no longer working in business today. And not only not working for employees but the customers who buy from these businesses as well.
The tide has begun to slowly shift. But there is so much more that needs to be done with how companies hire, fire, treat staff and run their corporations. Millennials have begun to push back on the old way of doing things at work. As someone older who has been right in the middle of all this mess for the past 34 years, I am right behind them when it comes to pushing out the old way of doing things.
I am excited to see how Simon Sinek is changing the business world.
And if you’re one of the ones out in the world who is not happy in your job or with your employer, you would be well served to read what Simon has to say. And to perhaps share his books with your superiors. Leading by example is the best way to install change.
Simon Sinek is an unshakable optimist. He believes in a bright future and our ability to build it together.
Described as “a visionary thinker with a rare intellect,” Simon has devoted his professional life to help advance a vision of the world that does not yet exist; a world in which the vast majority of people wake up every single morning inspired, feel safe wherever they are and end the day fulfilled by the work that they do.
He shares his ideas through his books: