Management 101: Are you a manager of metrics, or a leader of men?

Ever since I was a kid I have had a fascination with George Washington. If I think back to childhood I think it all started with a humble plaque situated in the center of my home town announcing the passage of Henry Knox through town on his way to General Washington’s encampment. Or maybe it was the fact that the great man himself once spent a night here at one of our old inns. Living in Massachusetts, historical reference points to the Revolutionary War are not in short supply, and of course General Washington is always a highlight.
Regardless, my admiration for him has only grown the more I have aged and  read. Washington, A Life by Rod Chernow is probably my favorite biography, and in it he goes into quite a bit of detail into the events surrounding both his relinquishment of power at the end of the war and of his refusal to serve more than two terms as president. 
Of course Washington wasn’t the first leader to step away once the need for his leadership had abated. Washington himself was often called a modern-day Cincinatus by his peers. Cincinatus was a Roman statesman whose service as consul in 460 BC and dictator in 458 BC and 439 BC made him a model of civic virtue because he too gave up near-absolute authority with the end of each crisis. In fact he has often been cited as the prime example of outstanding leadership and service to the greater good.
 
This concept of leadership as stewardship, the idea that those in charge have a duty to serve those who follow, is the central premise of a new book by Simon Sinek,  Leaders Eat Last. Sinek makes a powerful case that the Jack Welch-style chasing of short term profits at the expense of long term stability does irreparable harm to those companies. Instead he claims that companies that offer their employees a degree of safety and a sense of purpose are the ones that will win out in the long run.
 
Sinek’s Premise

[W]hen a leader embraces their responsibility to care for people instead of caring for numbers, then people will follow, solve problems and see to it that that leader’s vision comes to life the right way, a stable way and not the expedient way.

Sinek structures his book using multiple anecdotes and examples from both the corporate world as well as the military, which seems to represent his ideal in terms of leadership structure. While this tactic does occasionally lead him down rabbit holes that serve to showcase his political leanings, it nonetheless proves an overall effective means to get his message across.

Sinek’s Proof
Many times throughout Leaders Eat Last Sinek contrasts the definition of managers with that of leaders. In his view our business schools are churning out effective managers, but not true leaders. Managers are concerned with numbers and markers, where as leaders are concerned with people.

According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2013 called “State of the American Workplace,” when our bosses completely ignore us, 40 percent of us actively disengage from our work. If our bosses criticize us on a regular basis, 22 percent of us actively disengage. Meaning, even if we’re getting criticized, we are actually more engaged simply because we feel that at least someone is acknowledging that we exist! And if our bosses recognize just one of our strengths and reward us for doing what we’re good at, only 1 percent of us actively disengage from the work we’re expected to do.

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It is not the demands of the job that cause the most stress, but the degree of control workers feel they have throughout their day. The studies also found that the effort required by a job is not in itself stressful, but rather the imbalance between the effort we give and the reward we feel. Put simply: less control, more stress.

Clearly, employees want a relationship with their leadership. Time and time again he gives proof showing that companies that buck the management trend, and instead trust employees and essentially provide them cover to experiment,succeed to a greater degree over the long term.

Sinek spends a lot of time on this idea of leaders as protectors, keeping their employees safe.

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.

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When the people have to manage dangers from inside the organization, the organization itself becomes less able to face the dangers from outside.

This of course makes complete sense and it is a wonder that more companies do not follow this model. When employees have to spend their entire careers watching their backs, hoping to make it through the next set of layoffs (that are only made to satisfy the short term needs of investors, not the long term health of the company) it is no wonder that toxic and unproductive work environments abound.

Finally, Sinek drives home the point that those who lead well, lead not for privilege, but to serve. He relates the story of an Under Secretary of Defense who spoke at a large conference and revealed that the previous year, when he was still an under secretary, he was flown to the conference in business class, escorted to his hotel room, and treated to a cup of coffee in a ceramic mug.  Now, as a civilian, he flew coach, drove himself , and poured himself coffee into a styrofoam cup.

‘It occurs to me,’ he continued, ‘the ceramic cup they gave me last year…it was never meant for me at all. It was meant for the position I held. I deserve a styrofoam cup. This is the most important lesson I can impart to all of you,’ he offered. ‘All the perks, all the benefits and advantages you may get for the rank or position you hold, they aren’t meant for you. They are meant for the role you fill. And when you leave your role, which you eventually will, they will give the ceramic cup to the person who replaces you. Because you only ever deserved a styrofoam cup.

This is a point in which both George Washington and the famed Cincinatus would wholeheartedly agree. If you are a CEO, mid-level manager, or a simple shift supervisor, you could do worse than incorporate some of the ethos of  Leaders Eat Last into your leadership style.