What“Leaders Eat Last” by Simon SInek, 2014, 368 pages
Published by Portfolio Publishing, an imprint of Penguin Books, 2014.
Tear Down those SilosHave you ever had a job, where you ended up concluding that placing trust in your leaders and colleagues was perhaps not the wisest survival strategy? Many of us have probably at one point or other in our careers been forced to arrive at this conclusion about the environment in which we worked.
We may have had leadership more concerned with their own personal goals and bonuses than with the well-being of the organization and its employees. We may have worked in large companies where the organizing principle was bureaucracy and hierarchy with uni-directional top-down management and a vast difference in treatment and opportunities between management and employees at large. We may have worked for companies which through the incentive structures pitted teams/departments against each other, all in the name of achieving “better results” than last year.
Was it a happy place to work, did we produce our best and most innovative work there? I doubt it. When we go to work, we have to deal with unforeseen and quite possibly negative situations coming from outside the company. That can be draining. Now imagine that not only must we deal with the external challenges, but we must also constantly guard against internal challenges from top-management, other departments and our colleagues who in fact are our competition for bonuses, promotions, even keeping the job. What does that spell for us? It spells lack of trust in the company, its leadership and employees. It spells strain and stress due to the constant need to cover our backs and outperform our internal competition. It spells keeping your thoughts and ideas to yourself.
Reduce the Abstraction – People Before NumbersSimon Sinek has given an explanation of this phenomenon in his book “Leaders Eat Last”. He says that the unhappy situation has its roots in leaders having become so removed from the people they lead that people have become mere abstractions: a set of data that can be manipulated as needed to reach the business goals (i.e. hit the numbers).
This is a very unhealthy situation. When we do not relate to the people we lead, we lose sight of the consequences of our decisions and actions. We can act in ways that benefit our needs but not the needs of the organization or the people. We can act in ways that are counter-productive to the self-motivation of employees. We can act in ways that destroys trust in us. When we cannot put names and faces to our actions, we can easily slip into the “people as data” trap.
We may argue that our organization is too big for us to be able to relate to all the employees. However, Sinek points out that to create scale, we need to empower the leadership levels from top to front-line. Each leader in turn becomes responsible for relating to the group of people they lead and making sure that they represent these people in the broader context of the organization (towards other leaders and towards top-management). The days of uni-directional top-down management need to be gone. Trust becomes a two-way street that employees and managers must travel together. Empower employees to know the work and the rules, and trust them to know when to make exceptions. Trust leaders to care for us and have our best interests at heart.
Build the Circle of SafetyRelating to the people you work with is an important step. However, it is equally important to build an environment that encourages cooperation, openness and trust in day-to-day situations. This involves doing away with the silos, the individualized and oftentimes contradictory incentive systems, the top-management pleasing that produces politics instead of progress.
We need a clearly defined set of human values that govern us as a company; a way of looking at the world and at each other. Hiring for fit to these values becomes essential: competencies can be taught, but difference in values is much harder to overcome. Everybody within the company is subject to the same set of values, from top-management to the front-line employee. Nobody is awarded for looking out for themselves instead of looking out for the company and all its people. That means a revision of any existing incentives program.
Once the sub-optimization and internal competitiveness have been removed, we can achieve a feeling of safety, belonging and appreciation in our jobs and surroundings. Going to work no longer needs to be chore. Instead, work can be the place where we accomplish great things working with people we appreciate and trust, and who we know will support us.
TakeawaysAt many companies and in many organizations the people working there do not feel much enthusiasm for their jobs or workplace. Some may learn to see their job as a chore where the main goal becomes to achieve their bonus and avoid helping others as that in this system it will be at their own expense. Management may be viewed as primarily in it for themselves and disconnected from daily reality. However, this need not be so.
We can learn to build an environment of clearly defined values. We can ensure that everybody from management to front-line employee know that they will sink or swim together, that we are truly dependent on each other as people. In short, we can learn to undo the politics, silos and bureaucracies that riddle so many of our companies to this day.
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