Why people matter
Leaders eat last
Leaders Eat Last is the book that everyone who studies in team learning method should read. Understanding the history of capitalism, the backgrounds of the biggest financial crises in the past 100 years, and evolving methods of management used by most long-term successful companies as well as the US Navy are good bases when starting the journey with the team learning. It really shows that we are nothing as an individual and it is the team who makes things happen. It should be clear that there isn’t such thing as natural born leader, there are just hard work and the process of learning. Many of the presented methods in the book are much more difficult to put into practice than they might seem at first, but there are solutions to them. Book provides many examples of how to work towards these goals. Possibly one reason causing difficulties, to begin with, is the fact that long-term vision is a skill that has to be developed, nowadays people are blinded by short-term personal gains. Many mainstream companies provide the career paths for individuals that lead us towards the rat race. An unhealthy environment created by the company that focuses primarily on hitting the financial goals eventually faces problems that result in a lack of trust, people quit, and the company is going into stagnation or even bankruptcy.
Despite all the technological progress in the 21st-century humans don’t differ all that much from their ancestors. Human brains run on neurotransmitters and hormones. That is linked to what Simon has divided into “selfish” and “selfless” chemicals. These are in the same order: dopamine + endorphin and serotonin + oxytocin. The two first help us to get things done, these are released when we achieve goals, or we are in process of pursuing them. They are highly addictive and can be dangerous when overused. The latter two are responsible for building social bonds, feeling of belonging, and trust. It takes time to build up the foundation for their release and it’s a little bit trickier.
I will save you from explaining the chemistry and exact processes. That has been covered enough by people with much more in-depth knowledge about the topic or you could check what Simon himself wrote or spoke about it. What I want to look into, are the reasons why we should get a basic understanding of how we as people work.
One of the first things brought up when Entre started at Proakatemia was a safe space. People discussed what it is and how to create it. It almost left as we have it right away; many were very open-minded and ready to work as a team before really getting to know each other. That was the honeymoon, real work was ahead of us. Soon it turned out that the most open-minded people have had the strongest opinions and were hard to confront, not to mention convince. It didn’t take long to realize that we don’t have any safe space. Simon Sinek in Leaders Eat Last (2014) writes about the Circle of Safety. It’s an easy idea to implement in a small company formed by few friends, where trust is already there, and little effort is required to create a closer bond. That kind of team should be focusing on preserving the trust and assuring that serotonin and oxytocin are what is the main ingredient instead of turning into dopamine and endorphin-driven team.
While for the leaders of bigger teams, new organizations, or later huge corporations it gets a lot trickier. I would like to blend in my own experience when the team entered the storming stage how easily it got sidetracked. Lack of communication, clarity, and vision pushed for individualism and purse of own goals. That’s very challenging for the leaders, it’s almost like we forgot what we are here for, what team learning is all about, or maybe we didn’t yet get to even taste it properly. That’s hiding in the long-term vision, that we often simply lack. That long-term goal is blurry in the shadow of all the potential possibilities of our own development that are just in a front of us. While pursuing personal goals is very important, I think there’s no use in it if we have no one to share it with. Who would be a better person to share with our closing-a-deal success than a coworker who can really understand the difficulty and complexity of our accomplishment? Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubts your significant other cares for you and wants to support you, but they might not be all that interested in the characteristics of your latest sale. As well as our failures and hard moments are the best shared without fearing that we cannot hit that next goal and get fired. Without a feeling that our coworker will use it against us. I think examples given in the book are somehow very close to the idea of modern peer leadership or just very flat organizations. Where the head of the company can effectively communicate and share its vision to all the people within the company and people trust that vision, as well as the CEO, trusts the people who make it happen. The strength is within the people therefore we should take care of them.
The CEO is not able to really know everyone in a big company, at best executives can try to at least meet with everyone for lunch once and that is usually not possible. Instead, we should aim for trust and extended safe space, not only for the top executives but everyone. That way we can assure that people will work for the greater good, the long-term – effort for the company means effort for themselves. A brilliant case from the book showing an extreme level of solidarity was when the leader of the company, Bob Chapman refused to lay off his workers during difficult financial times. People decided themselves that each one of them will take 4 weeks of unpaid leave to help to balance the finance. A more common method would be to just lay some people off to balance the books. It is an efficient way to do it, but it has side effects. It replaces the bond and commitment with fear and anxiety.
That would be also an effort and something no easy to achieve in many companies. Instead, leaders can, should hire and empower people who they trust, who will expand the inner circle to everyone down the ladder. That way people can trust that person above them will do everything within their power to help and protect them. That goes a step higher and higher all the way to the CEO. This only works when everyone in the company is truly included.
Something that I want to take from this book as an aspiring leader is that we should look at the bigger picture, in our companies, but as well in everyday life. It’s worth writing down our long-term goals, develop them and go back to them. It really made me think about what makes us really successful and how I define success.
The book has a great message, although I’m left with mixed feelings about reading the book itself 7 years after it was published. Simon is a great speaker. He covers the book pretty well in many interviews and speeches. In my own opinion, it’s just nice to leave something for the reader. I’ve read the book in a hope of finding out some in-depth, cutting-edge knowledge. Instead, I was left in disappointment and bitter taste. One could say I’ve ruined it for myself by watching the author’s speeches and interview online. That is true, but at the same time, it was the reason why I picked up the book, I was hungry for more.