#ICBookClub Review – Leaders Eat Last

Fa Mafi, one of our wonderful committee members has written a short review on September’s ICBookClub read Simon Sinek’s ‘Leaders Eat Last’, a book on leadership and how leaders directly impact organisational culture – over to you Fa!

As a fan of Sinek’s work (Start With Why being a favourite of mine!), I thoroughly enjoyed this investigation into corporate culture – the good, the bad, and the ugly. So, here’s a few key concepts from the book – and how they can be applied to internal communications practice.

Circles of Safety

Simon writes extensively about ‘Circles of Safety’ – which is effectively trust and how colleagues band together to look after each other.

“Only when we feel we are in a Circle of Safety will we pull together as a unified team, better able to survive and thrive regardless of the conditions outside.” – Simon Sinek

We all have those team members at work, regardless of what we do – whether it’s Anika who helps you with your report because she’s great with numbers, or Joe who offers to cover for your shift when your child is off sick with the flu. And many of us, sadly, have had colleagues or managers who haven’t made us feel quite so safe or ‘looked after’.

But how can internal communications support circles of safety? Firstly, it’s our responsibility to be authentic and transparent. If we’re weaving rose-coloured narratives around something that’s widely known to be the biggest disaster known to the company since 1997, we lose colleagues’ trust – it’s also ethically grey behaviour, at best! When there’s a great team accomplishment, we can deploy our strong story-telling skills to ensure that everybody who was involved gets a mention and/or a thank you – not just the ‘Birmingham IT Team’, or worse, the ‘IT Director’. It takes a village, people! And, whilst it’s not the Internal Comms team’s responsibility, line managers can support circles of safety by trusting their teams (rather than micro-managing) and taking an interest in the individuals that they manage – which can be as simple as the tried-and-tested ‘Good weekend?’.


The concept of ‘abstraction’ in Sinek’s book is particularly interesting to me and, rather dramatically, the chapter dedicated to this is called ‘Abstraction Kills’. The concept of abstraction (as described by Sinek) is the ability to detach oneself from individuals and therefore treat them as non-human. People become numbers and Sinek writes: ‘when we divorce ourselves from humanity through numerical abstraction, we are capable of inhuman behavior.’ When it comes to Internal Comms, especially in larger organisations, we often forget the person in the .csv file of 1000 email addresses. My first inclination is to focus on the resonance of comms – keep it relevant so people feel like more than just Employee #2603. How many times have you received an email that wasn’t relevant to you due to poor segmentation? Employees in Manchester really don’t need to know about the  broken down lift in London. If your comms is tone-deaf, people will change the station! Also, remember that employees are human beings, focus on their stories in your communications – and invite them to share so they feel like they matter and have a voice. We’re all the same at work as we are at home – and people have loved telling and listening to stories since we were drawing pictures on caves in loincloths. Finally, when communicating something sensitive – such as redundancies – be empathetic, not only in that specific communication, but other communications that those people may receive – again, careful segmentation can help here. You may not want to go all guns blazing on a communication advertising the Christmas do, that week.


The Chemicals Between Us

I was fascinated by Sinek’s argument that evolution has conditioned us to seek out very particular qualities in leaders and, as someone with an interest in ‘pop neuroscience’ (if that isn’t already a thing, it is now!) how the chemicals in our body are communicating to us what those characteristics are. ‘Selfish’ chemicals – endorphins (which mask pain) and dopamine (the goal-achieving chemical) work to help us get things done; ‘selfless’ chemicals – serotonin (the leadership chemical) and oxytocin (the chemical of love), help strengthen our social bonds. Sinek’s view is that great leadership masks the ‘selfish’ chemicals in favour of the ‘selfless’.

However, when it comes to internal comms, we have to be transparent – and it’s known that in business, the news won’t always be good. As internal communicators, we are alchemists – and need to balance these chemicals. There will be times where there is pain to be masked (loss of a colleague, redundancies), or when it is important that we’re fostering a bit of competitiveness (especially in organisations that have a strong Sales culture) – but if we strive to balance these campaigns or communications with strong leadership and/or empathetic, carefully-thought-out messaging, the result will be far less explosive.

Join us on 16 October for the next #ICBookClub discussion on Twitter where we’ll be discussing Drive by Daniel H. Pink.

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