#SAReads Chat Review
“Truly human leadership protects an organization from the internal rivalries that can shatter a culture. When we have to protect ourselves from each other, the whole organization suffers. But when trust and cooperation thrive internally, we pull together and the organization grows stronger as a result.”
– Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last
The idea of giving, selfless, servant leadership are likely concepts with which you are already familiar. But how frequently do we encounter and work with that type of leader? How often are we that type of leader? This is at the heart of Simon Sinek’s new book, Leaders Eat Last. Sinek states boldly that it is the leader that sets the tone and goes on to outline why due to our biology, our human nature, even the impact of generational experience, we are designed for communities of trust. With that, he introduces a new set of circles beyond Start With Why – Leaders Eat Last introduces the “Circle of Safety.”
Perhaps you also conjure up an image of Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro, and really, the Circle of Trust is not far from Sinek’s Circle of Safety. The essence being in Sinek’s case that we are surrounded by danger. We have been for hundreds of thousands of years. This is why having a community that looks out for one another, protects one another, and reinforces trust through action are essential to our ability to feel safe. When we feel safe, the opportunities and feelings of wellbeing are endless. When we are well, our ability to contribute in healthy, thoughtful, creative ways to the good of the whole increases significantly. Not quite De Niro’s view when trying to manage a new son-in-law, but that’s part of the beauty of Sinek’s work. There are portions that will feel familiar to the most veteran of leadership theory readers but still surprise you with some new sparks of examples, aha moments, and fuel to examine your own experience.
The Circle of Safety is a very real and relevant experience. Picture it simply as having a professional wolfpack. And as you read Sinek’s description, you recall clearly when you’ve experienced it. And, sadly, when you have not. The context for the book is work environments, but there is applicability across the more broad student affairs field. There are stories, statistics, and examples shared that are useful for discussion within your own department or team, will give you pause when working with student organizations, or may help you think about the people whom we serve.
Sinek pulls inspiration from many Gallup polls and there is an easy connection to Rath and Harter’s Wellbeing. Sinek builds on similar sentiments and draws forward more examples of why a well workplace is advantageous to both the employer and employee. A compelling argument in the beginning was Sinek’s compilation of studies that point out that even the most stressed out executive-level employees are not as likely to feel the psychological and physical impacts of a negative work environment that lacks trust, and therefore safety, than those closest to the front lines. The perception of “executive stress syndrome” is in fact not nearly the greatest issue in our organizations. Sinek highlights a study where workers lowest in the employment hierarchy had an early death rate four times those at the top. The protections afforded do follow a hierarchy, even within some of the most basic and primal societies that are described in the book. The key is to extend the protections of the hierarchy and to have more leaders who are diligent about creating environments of support, where honesty is the mode of operation, and employee wellbeing is a priority. The message about this wasn’t regarding getting more employees to the C-Suite (as they are still stressed out) but rather the factor that impacted work stress the greatest was having a sense of control over our work. Let that settle in.
One area I had to get past in the book was Sinek’s description of valuing employees as though they are someone’s child, as though they are one’s adopted children. While I can appreciate a deep, trusting work relationship that feels like an extension of family, I found the rather emotionally-tied analogy to not hold much weight and not be particularly inspiring. I write this as forewarning if you view that type of description as I did and to assure you it is a short-lived thought in the book, cropping up but one more time in Sinek’s final thoughts. That further emphasized to me that those early points could have been eliminated not to the detriment of Sinek’s message. However, there is an important point tied to the child analogy, and that is not to give up on your employees. This resonated with me from a higher education perspective. Poor performance in student affairs can go unchecked when there is no focus, no clear sense of attainable results, and no one invested enough to demonstrate trust in an employee’s abilities. As part of creating a Circle of Safety, caring enough to coach others to high-level performance is an essential part. Do not be mistaken – creating safety is not all holding hands and trust falls. A critical piece of it is showing you really know one another and with that comes recognition and action when someone could be performing to their full potential.
While change is not simple and doesn’t happen overnight, Sinek describes creating more work environments where we take strides to care for one another, to act based on trust, and to value one another as people over processes, tasks, and numbers. Sinek outlines many compelling points for why it is good for the health of employees, the impact on customers, and enabling more wise business decisions to happen. Leaders Eat Last is another worthwhile read by Simon Sinek and one that will add value to any lens through which you are understanding and improving your work.
Review written by Renee Dowdy.