I have a request before we begin. Don't shoot the messenger, please. Because I've just finished reading Simon Sinek's latest book, Leaders Eat Last, and I'm frightened.
Your leadership style is killing people.
It turns out that your management style is causing people to die. Not in the sense of "man, that guy is killing me today," but in the sense of "people are having heart attacks and dying because of you."
That might seem harsh if it weren't for a University College London research that found that people who don't feel appreciated for their efforts at work are more likely to develop heart disease.
So, suppose you believe that effective leadership entails rewarding individuals for their work. In that case, you must also believe that terrible leadership means killing people.
(The book has a good long part on how the body reacts to stressful work settings, but I'll leave that for you to read once you've purchased the book.)
That's OK, you say, but my mother taught me to say nothing at all if I didn't have anything pleasant to say about someone.
Here's another surprise for you. Gallup published a study in 2013 called "State of the American Workplace," which found that 40% of us actively disengage from our jobs when our managers entirely ignore us.
But that's not the most startling aspect. The surprising element is that 22% of us deliberately disconnect when our superiors criticize us frequently.
Because I'm a math major, I know that an 18% increase in engagement occurs when someone is criticized rather than simply neglected frequently.
Your leadership style is killing your business, too.
We obsess about figures in the corporate sector. It's easy to forget that in a world where virtually everything can be reduced to a number (how many Facebook friends and Twitter followers do you have?), the only way to get anything done in business is through and with other people.
So, when and how did we start replacing people with numbers?
It happened on August 5, 1981, according to Sinek.
Ronald Reagan dismissed more than 11,359 air traffic controllers on that occasion. PATCO (the air traffic controllers' union) had vowed to strike, so contingency measures were put in place to guarantee that the entire transport system didn't come to a standstill.
The ax dropped when it became obvious that the employees working under the contingency plan were doing a good job.
Reagan established the precedence for defending trade before protecting individuals on that date, according to Sinek.
For the following two decades, the most admired corporate leader was Jack Welch, who acquired the moniker "Neutron Jack" for his persistent concentration on "shareholder value."
He became known for dismissing the worst 10% of his managers (those who had the least impact on the stock price) while rewarding the top 20% of his managers with stock options and incentives.
"On the face of it, shareholder value is the stupidest notion in the world," Welch would ultimately acknowledge. But it didn't stop us from measuring more and more and running our enterprises based on "the numbers."
Here are a few instances of what I mean:
Marissa Meyer reportedly tested 41 hues of blue while at Google to see which one caused users to click more often, resulting in more money for Google.
The Lean Startup is the most popular business theory right now. It incorporates concepts like "innovation accounting" and "cohort analysis" to assist a company in determining whether or not they are on the right road.
Employees are just that: numbers. Customers are just that: numbers. We are all nothing more than numbers.
And awful things happen when everything is reduced to numbers. It won't happen immediately away, but it will happen eventually.
Concentrating only on the data comes at a price that isn't immediately evident. According to a survey by Mercer LLC, one out of every three employees contemplated quitting their employment in 2011.
If they really departed, that would be good. The underlying issue is that, except for 1.5 percent, everyone left their jobs simultaneously.
If you've ever worked with someone actively looking for a new job, you'll know that they aren't very productive.
But things become even worse. According to another Gallup poll, 70% of American workers are either "not engaged" or "actively disengaged" at work. Active disengagement is estimated to cost the US $450 billion to $550 billion each year.
I'll leave it to you to calculate your part of the burden, but let's be clear: bad leadership costs your company money.
The solution isn't more cheerleaders, is it?
Sinek, according to George J Flynn - a retired Lieutenant General from the Marine Corps - in the forward of his book:
"His vision is simple: to create a new generation of men and women who understand that an organization's success or failure is based on leadership excellence and not managerial acumen."
The risk in reading comments like these - and leadership books in general - is that they appear to justify management ineptness and reduce the function of a leader to that of a glorified cheerleader.
If you've ever spoken to someone who works for a leader who lacks managerial skills, you'll know that those leaders are treated with contempt.
Neither management acumen nor leadership brilliance is sufficient in and of themselves. And, even if a leader is real and honest, you won't fully trust them unless they deliver results.
So, leaders who aren't business savvy aren't the solution.
The solution is to eat last.
As Sinek points out in the book, leadership is responsible for doing more, not permission to do less.
Jim Sinegal is well aware of this. You may not recognize his name, but you've most likely visited one of his businesses, Costco.
From 1982 until his retirement in 2012, he co-founded and oversaw the firm. In many ways, he was the polar opposite of Welch. If you treat your staff like family, he believes they will reciprocate with trust and loyalty.
It wasn't a simple task. Wall Street analysts chastised him for refusing to push staff to shoulder a bigger share of healthcare expenditures, claiming he was "too kind." "It's better to be an employee or a customer than a shareholder," another expert remarked.
Could he, like Welch, have gotten more profit out of the firm in the near term? Sure.
However, if you compare the stock prices of GE and Costco from 1986 to now, you'll see something interesting. The stock of GE varied dramatically from year to year, but the stock of Costco increased steadily over time.
If you had invested in GE in 1986 and cashed out as of the publishing of this book, your return would have been 600 percent. Your Costco investment would have yielded a 1,200% return.
Sinegal understood that successful leadership required patience and foresight. He understood that putting the team's needs ahead of his own was the only way to generate long-term benefit.
He understood that his company's culture was crucial to its long-term success. He understood that for a great culture to exist, Costco employees must have faith in their leaders and vice versa. He recognized the need to spend time with his staff to ensure that they felt appreciated and heard.
You've probably heard a lot of these things before. But now, research and data back them up, proving that effective leadership leads to greater results.
It's also supported by one of the finest leadership analogies ever: leaders eat last. The leaders of the Marines (not exactly a "warm and fuzzy" organization) really eat last. They think that true leaders prioritize the needs of the people they lead before their own.
The irony is that altering it to meet your team's requirements now is your greatest bet for long-term success.
It's a simple choice: will you be Jack Welch or Jim Sinegal?