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Book review

August 2017

Title: Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don't

Author: Simon Sinek 

Publisher: Portfolio/Penguin


Every organization, whether in the workplace or in rigid hierarchies like the military, rely on capable leaders to survive and prosper. Companies are social organizations that are only as strong as the individuals that exist within them. A weak work culture or a lack of leadership in an organization spells doom for the workplace.

Simon Sinek is The New York Times bestselling author of the book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action and was acclaimed for his TED talk titled How Great Leaders Inspire Action which became the third most popular TED talk of all time. In his latest book, Sinek argues that workplaces prosper when they have strong leaders who protect their employees and look out for their interests rather than the narrow interests of a select few. Success in an organization is dependent on ensuring that every employee feels safe in what Sinek calls a “Circle of Safety.” By this he means that employees can only truly grow when they feel safe among the people they work with, thus causing them to focus on threats outside the organization rather than the ones within it.

In the book, Sinek cites the Whitehall Studies conducted by scientists in Britain who wanted to discover the relationship between an employee’s place on the corporate ladder and stress. The results were profound in that they discovered  that worker stress was not caused by a higher degree of responsibility, but instead by the worker’s perception of the control that they had. The study points to the significance of workers having control over their work in order to feel safe within their organization and perform to the best of their ability.

To illustrate the effect of leadership practises on companies’ work culture and performance, Sinek includes various anecdotes of various companies employing innovative leadership styles or implementing new ones. For example, Sinek talks about a change in management practices at HayssenSandiacre, a factory based in South Carolina. HayssenSandiacre was bought out by Chief Executive Officer  Bob Chapman, who was on a mission to turn the company around after observing the company’s work culture and talking with its employees. Chapman instituted a different policy that trusted employees rather than micro-managing them, and treated them equally whether they were a factory worker or an office employee.The change to the company’s management practises paid off as revenue jumped from US$45 million to US$95 million.   

He also mentions Charlie Kim, Founder of Next Jump, who is boldly implementing a policy of lifetime employment in which it becomes almost impossible to be fired from the job. Kim compares training employees to raising children in that every boss’ commitment to his or her employees is for life. This type of commitment in fostering individual growth causes employees to value their relationship with their co-workers and ultimately improves the company’s performance. The success of the policy is evident as Next Jump’s revenue growth increased to 60 percent a year with even engineers at the company refusing offers from Google and Facebook. The book presents excellent examples of how managers can effectively lead an organization and ensure that each employee feels safe and valued to grow.

It has a message for managers that improving company performance is dependent on treating employees as valued members of the family, rather than always focusing on quarterly profits and quantitative measurements of company success.Lastly, Sinek has advice for companies who struggle to connect with their employees, especially the millennial generation. He gives strong insight into how leaders can understand this generation and use their unique experiences to help the company.


Tips for bridging the baby boomer-millennial divide

Simon Sinek is a New York Times bestselling author who has become known for his previous book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. In his new book Leaders eat last, his observations of different workplaces and his own research gives insight for managers who want to build a better workplace.


Working with Millennials

For instance, an important part of his book addresses the uniqueness of the millennial generation, and the challenges and opportunities that this group poses for the workplace. Sinek says that millennials are more self-conscious and grew up with social media in an environment of instant self-gratification. Therefore, managers need to take this into account when mentoring and leading this young cohort.

One of his key points of advice is to offer millennials opportunities to develop “human” skills, in the sense that sometimes it is better to rely less on technology to build social skills. He recommends calling more often instead of using email, and promoting face-to-face interaction to build relationships.

On the other end, Sinek gives recommendations for what millennials can do for themselves to contribute to a good work culture. He believes that it is important for millennials to embrace constructive criticism. “Being recognized for our strengths and contributions does wonders for our self-confidence and our feelings of belonging. Real learning happens when things go wrong or when we screw up. Find the people whom you respect and admire, the ones you want to be more like or know how they are good at something you could be better at, regardless of their rank and responsibility, and ask them what you can do better next time.”


The Baby Boomers

Sinek also looks at the history of the Baby Boomer generation and their impact on the United States. The Boomers' ideas changed American society as “during this period, new economic theories were being proposed to protect the wealth the Boomers were accumulating.” Sinek believes that during the 1980s, public industries and industries succumbed to a narrow economic perspective that was based on selfish priorities and short-term thinking.

The problem with this, he argues, is that this type of thinking undermines the foundation upon which trust and cooperation and trust is built, when people are not viewed as the most valuable asset. These two large ideas of the society that the Baby Boomers built and the wave of the Millennial generation, generates conflict and tension and explains some of the contemporary workplace issues we see today.

Ultimately, in order to solve these problems, Sinek believes that leaders must step up. “Everything about being a leader is like being a parent. It is about committing to the well-being of those in our care and having a willingness to make sacrifices to see their interests advanced so that they may carry our banner long after we are gone.” ◆