May 082014

Book Short: Like Reading a Good Speech

Book Short:  Like Reading a Good Speech

Leaders Eat Last, by Simon Sinek, is a self-described “polemic” that reads like some of the author’s famous TED talks and other speeches in that it’s punchy, full of interesting stories, has some attempted basis in scientific fact like Gladwell, and wanders around a bit.  That said, I enjoyed the book, and it hit on a number of themes in which I am a big believer – and it extended and shaped my view on a couple of them.

Sinek’s central concept in the book is the Circle of Safety, which is his way of saying that when people feel safe, they are at their best and healthiest.  Applied to workplaces, this isn’t far off from Lencioni’s concept of the trust foundational layer in his outstanding book, Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  His stories and examples about the kinds of things that create a Circle of Safety at work (and the kinds of things that destroy them) were very poignant.  Some of his points about how leaders set the tone and “eat last,” both literally and figuratively, are solid.  But his most interesting vignettes are the ones about how spending time face-to-face in person with people as opposed to virtually are incredibly important aspects of creating trust and bringing humanity to leadership.

My favorite one-liner from the book, which builds on the above point and extends it to a corporate philosophy of people first, customer second, shareholders third (which I have espoused at Return Path for almost 15 years now) is

Customers will never love a company unless employees love it first.

A couple of Sinek’s speeches that are worth watching are the one based on this book, also called Leaders Eat Last, and a much shorter one called How Great Leaders Inspire Action.

Bottom line:  this is a rambly book, but the nuggets of wisdom in it are probably worth the exercise of having to find them and figure out how to connect them (or not connect them).

Thanks to my fellow NYC CEO Seth Besmertnik for giving me this book as well as the links to Sinek’s speeches.


Jun 142012

Book Short: Alignment Well Defined

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business is Patrick Lencioni’s newest book.  Unlike most or all of his other books (see the end of this post for the listing), this one is not a fable, although his writing style remains very quick and accessible.

I liked this book a lot.  First, the beginning section is a bit of a recap of his Five Dysfunctions of a Team which I think was his best book.  And the ending section is a recap of his Death by Meeting, another really good one.  The middle sections of the book are just a great reminder of the basic building blocks of creating and communicating strategy and values – about driving alignment.

But the premise, as the subtitle indicates, is that maintaining organizational health is the most important thing you can do as a leader.  I tell our team at Return Path  all the time that our culture is a competitive advantage in many ways, some quantifiable, and others a little less tangible.

A telling point in the book is when Lencioni is relaying a conversation he had with the CEO of a client company who does run a healthy organization – he asked, “Why in the world don’t your competitors do any of this?” And the client responded, “You know, I honestly believe they think it’s beneath them.” Lencioni goes on to say, “In spite of its undeniable power, so many leaders struggle to embrace organizational health because they quietly believe they are too sophisticated, too busy, or too analytical to bother with it.”  And there you have it.  More examples of why “the soft stuff” is mission critical.

Lencioni’s “Recipe for Organizational Health” (the outline of the book):

–          Build a Cohesive Leadership Team

–          Create Clarity

–          Overcommunicate Clarity

–          Reinforce Clarity

And his recipe for creating a tight set of “mission/vision/values” (the middle of the book):

1. Why do we exist?

2. How do we behave?

3. What do we do?

4. How will we succeed?

5. What is most important, right now?

6. Who must do what?

While there are lots of other good frameworks for doing all of this, Lencioni’s models and books are great, simple reminders of one of the CEO’s most important leadership functions.  We’re recrafting our own mission and values statements at the moment at Return Path, and we’re doing it using this 6-Question framework instead of the classic “Mission/Vision/Values” framework popularized a few years back by Harvard Business Review.

The full book series roundup as far as OnlyOnce has gotten so far is: