Bold leadership in a challenging era

Last fall i read, and reread a book titled “Readers Eat Last” by Simon Sinek . It left me both speechless, and a bit frustrated. And the reason was this – Simon clearly developed the idea of what good leadership looks like, and how much different good leaders are than most of the examples we have seen in business and life

In the military they give metals to people who are willing to sacrifice themselves so others may gain, but in business we give bonuses for those willing to sacrifice others so they may gain”.” – Simon Sinek

His thesis builds on the idea that leaders create an environment that is either safe, and growing or one that is difficult, competitive, and unhealthy. Safety is one of the key qualities we long for , and especially in the business world.

Simon is able to brilliantly illustrate better choices that regrettably our business world does not seem to embrace… Stories like that of Charlie Kim, ceo of “Next Jump”, a tech company in New York City that does not believe in laying off people for performance… instead he believes that leaders coach them to greatness.

“You don’t lay off your child when they come home with a C.” No, you coach them to success. Why would business be different? – Charlie Kim

And stories like that of a large industrial company called Barry Waymiller that faced financial crisis in 2008 because of the economic crash. They had to cut millions to survive, and the economy had affected them significantly, with 30% of their orders cancelled over night with the crash. That ceo could not imagine impacting his employees with unemployment. Instead he chose to ask everyone to take 4 weeks unpaid per year. He saved those jobs, and the employees were able to accomplish this. In fact, some employees that had more savings offered to take on one or two more weeks of unpaid from those who could ill affort to lose the pay. Fast forward and those actions allowed the company to survive, and as the economy came back so did orders. Finally stable again, Barry Wainmiller was able to return everyone to full employment, and they restored any lost income.

The ceo of Barry Waymiller does not believe in head counts. He believes in heart counts.” – Simon Sinek

Heart counts – Caring more for the people that would be affected by a change in the status of employment than by meeting numbers at the detriment of people. This resonated with me so deeply. Be honest- in our work lives haven’t we seen this happen over and over.

This resonated because i know what it is like to be in my zone, doing a brilliant job with great results, positive feedback and a quiet contentment only to have the rug pulled from under me with that decision to “downsize” at the hospital. That initial hit to the wallet and to the emotions when a job loss occurs is not where it stops. Our work is something we are tied to emotionally, intellectually, financially, spiritually and socially. The impact goes deep, requires great courage to come back from such blows. That impact can crush dreams, bring big measures of discouragement, depression and a total sense of failure.

It takes a rewiring of our thoughts, and the courage to stick your neck out there and try again. Not everyone comes back from that plunge into peril. It takes courage to put yourself under the leadership of someone else, with the eternal hope that they will be good. And it takes a willingness to move beyond the emotional and social stigma. It requires a courageous risk appetite. It requires cleaning out the old thoughts, and learning to think more healthy. And it takes amazing leadership to see in us that possibility that lies under the surface.

Good leaders make sacrifices themselves to serve the greater good of their staff. I love that idea. The idea of being the servant , putting others ahead of our own interests, but it flies in the face of the norm of our business world. And all too often the decision makers who are jumping to the toon of shareholders don’t see a way that is different. It is all too easy to cut jobs, eliminate people, and pay no attention to the economic and social impact of these employees.

Speechless I was because I have seldom believed there are leaders who care so deeply and frustrated because we as a society have put so much emphasis in the me first style. But there are real leaders out there. And those who choose to live at a servant standard are rare- but they do occur.

I want to be this kind of leader in my life, including leading in business.

And I want to believe that leaders think through the impact any actions they take will have. I realize these days the easiest choice is not always the one for the greater good of all. But Simon gives hope that this can happen.

On a personal note having worked for decades I can tell you my experience with great leaders is rare. But I have worked for someone that brought intellect, wisdom, experience and a heart for people. I knew I was an equal with the rest of his team, a contributor, a vital part of the team. It was refreshing to have someone see in me something beyond the role I had. Sadly with the frequent trend to reorganize and shift people I was move to another area. Its not the same…

Good leadership involves a few decisions:

  • Decide to put your best foot forward with no compromise
  • Respect what you are called to do and conduct business with that legacy building in mind
  • Value the team more than the profitability.
  • Listen, observe, value and build into others