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Leaders eat last

I recently read a great book by Simon SinekLeaders Eat Last.  Simon Sinek is an ethnographer and previously did a TED talk on the Golden Circle and wrote the book Start with Why.

He observed that great companies and great individuals start with Why. Understanding the purpose of an organization makes it much easier to motivate individuals or teams to buy in with their hearts, instead of just their brains. Steve Jobs wanted to put a ding in the universe. Bill Gates a PC on every desktop. The founders of Wikipedia wanted to create a dictionary free to everyone.

In his latest book, Sinek extends this observation to also note that great leaders not only put their team before them, but also build family and community. These leaders make a difference.

They lead by focusing on the human elements of organizations, like relationships, trust, shared purpose. Successful leaders pay attention to people and treat their teams like family.

He brings up the example of Herb Kelleher, the CEO of Southwest Airlines, who took over LUV Airlines, which was going broke, and created Southwest.

His great innovation to turn Southwest around?

He primarily took care of his team instead of his customers first. Happy employees serve customers well. He built family and community.

This approach melds well with Dan Pink’s observation in Drive. Somewhat anti-intuitively, he says, paying people who do cognitive work more money to do better actually causes them to do worse.

Wow, who would have thought that would happen?

Well, according to Sinek, it may track back to our evolutionary roots.

We have survived and thrived more than any species on earth because of our ability to work together. Long ago – as a matter of simple survival – people learned that when it comes to creating safety fulfilling basic human needs, a community with a shared purpose always does better than a scattered group of individuals.

Today, leaders that create safety for their teams to explore, make mistakes and do something that benefits their communities and families tend to drive better performance and satisfaction. This comes from caring about their teams and purpose.

Pink found that cognitive workers desire autonomy, mastery and purpose in their work.

What lessons does that provide for us?

We should build a family and community in the state of West Virginia to focus on improving the lives of others. Leaders in this effort should remember who does the real work and push down authority and communications to those closest to the front lines.

Building real community through love, purpose and service of each of us to each other and to our state will change scarcity to abundance and create a better future for all.