Simon Sinek is in the UK to promote his new book ‘Leaders Eat Last’. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to hear him deliver the keynote speech at the Vistage 25 year conference to over five hundred CEOs and business owners. Given Simon Sinek’s TED talk on his first book ‘Start with Why’ is the 8th most watched TED talk of all time, I was intrigued to hear about his latest message.
In a similar vein to ‘Start with Why’, ‘Leaders Eat Last’ has a simple message at its core which is then very elegantly packaged and delivered. The message at the core of the new book is that we humans are biologically wired to be social animals who seek safety. We look for leaders who will protect us from the dangers of the outside world. We expect such leaders to protect us when the safety of the tribe is threatened and, in return, we grant such leaders special privileges, such as status and preferential rewards.
However, Simon Sinek’s suggestion is that this deep-rooted social contract has been violated in the world of business. Citing our embattled colleagues in the banking sector as the most high profile example, he explains that our business leaders have not protected the tribe when the going got tough. In contrast, he suggests that they simply maximised their own selfish outcomes and this is why we have lost trust in them and resent their extravagant salaries, bonuses and perks. At this point in his presentation I was mapping this thinking to the ‘S’ of systems thinking in the FACTS coaching model and seeing some interesting parallels.
In explaining how this happened, Simon dipped into a large dose of (the obligatory) neuroscience to highlight how we can become hooked on the dopamine rush of business life which gives us a short term highs yet, like all addictions, will ultimately ‘waste time, waste resources and destroy relationships’.
It was a polished and accomplished talk. As the raucous applause died down, I turned to one of my guests, a UK board member of a global plc, to ask what he had made of it. ‘Well’ he replied ‘I like the vision but in my job if I do not focus on maximising shareholder returns then I am likely to get the sack’. It was a blunt and striking assessment of the challenge facing our business leaders in navigating from the reality of the here and now to the higher ground that Simon Sinek marks out in ‘Leaders Eat Last’.
Maybe this is where the executive coaching profession and organisations like Vistage have a crucial role to play? In 1-2-1 coaching sessions and private advisory groups we can help business leaders ground the grand vision of speakers like Simon Sinek, map it carefully to their current reality and work out in practical terms how they navigate from A to B. This will involve a balance between challenging leaders to be courageous to ‘speak their truth and face the FACTS’ yet also to support them to do this in a way that does not get them the sack! Paraphrasing the much-quoted serenity prayer – we need to help business leaders have the courage to change the things they can, to accept the things they cannot change and to have the wisdom to know the difference.
Thank you Simon Sinek and all at Vistage UK for an inspiring keynote delivered to an important audience.