CHRISTOFF OOSTHUYSEN reviews “Leaders Eat Last – Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t” by Simon Sinek, published by Portfolio Penguin (2014).
Why is it that in recent times the world has experienced so many repetitive market crashes – when the previous market crash happened as far back as the so called Great Depression?
The answer, says Simon Sinek in “Leaders Eat Last”, lies in the imbalanced approach adopted by leaders of the economy since the last World War.
Imbalances emerge where the abstraction of data overrides the needs of people, where individual gain of executives is more important than value offered to the customers the business serves. It is when leaders “eat first”.
This imbalance, he says, is best explained by comparing the business approach to the chemical balance our bodies create to keep us happy. These chemicals are endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.
This comparison rings a bell!
In his previous book “Start With Why”, Sinek explained the “Golden Circle” of how leaders inspire action at hand. The structure of the brain, where the most obvious and clearest aspects of business are found in the outer ring of the circle – the what – while the inner ring corresponds with the more fuzzy but meaningful – the why.
In “Leaders Eat Last” he argues that it is the imbalance between these four “happiness chemicals”, as these manifest in business, that cause the disturbances in the markets and that leaders should work at restoring a balance.
In our bodies, endorphins mask pain so that we keep going; dopamine creates the good feeling when we notice that we are achieving progress and reaching goals; serotonin creates the feeling of pride when others recognise and respect us; and oxytocin creates the feeling of love and deep trust with the people closest to us. In a healthy body, there is a balance between these short-term and lasting happiness chemicals. And in business, Sinek argues, we should aim for the same balance. But there is no such balance at the moment – this explains the volatility in the world economy.
The analogy of the happiness chemical with business brings some interesting insights. While dopamine offers instant, but short-lived gratification, oxytocin boosts the immune system and gives a lasting effect of calm and safety. Too much “dopamine” would result in big spurts of empty happiness, but is it not better to have gradually increasing and ongoing happiness from “oxytocin”?
This is what Sinek argues where things went wrong in the economy – the “chemistry” is out of balance and needs to be fixed.
Where leaders achieve such balance, it becomes possible to create “Circles of Safety”. Within a Circle of Safety the people inside an organisation are inclined to support each other and work together. When leaders are focused on creating the safe space for their people to prosper, they will eat last.