Leaders eat last

 
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The Marine Corps taught me the core of my beliefs about leadership. Here's one of them.

 

As a leader, you have two jobs. Accomplish the mission. Care for your people.

 

It's never easy to do both. There's sometimes a natural tension between them.

 

In the business world, the "people" mission is usually phrased as "people are our most important asset." Most business leaders subscribe to that. They talk the talk.

 

But now that we're in hard times, that job and those words don't seem to count any more. Suddenly, the only job that matters is the one about the mission.

 

We're seeing companies chopping jobs wholesale, without trying anything else to work through the downturn. They're not even trying time-tested management techniques that have worked for decades for the companies that seem to be able to keep their workforce intact when downturns come.

 

Here's another core belief I picked up in my Marine Corps days. Leaders eat last.

 

In that world it's straightforward enough. At the end of the day you make sure that your people are cared for and fed before you take your turn.

 

At Nucor they seem to understand that. When compensation costs need cutting it starts at the top.

 

But too many companies don't get it. They lay off thousands while the top executives don't even have to switch to paper napkins in the executive dining room.

 

My father-in-law likes to say that "Adversity doesn't build character. It reveals it."

 

We’ve got the adversity. And we're finding out which of our leaders have character.

 

 

Wally's Working Supervisor's Support Kit is a collection of information and tools to help working supervisors do a better job. It's based on what Wally's learned in over twenty years of supervisory skills training. Click here to check it out.

 

 
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Wally Bock has helped people learn to be great bosses for more than a quarter century. His latest book, Performance Talk: The One-on-One Part of Leadership, makes learning key leadership principles almost effortless by teaching through a story and providing lists of resources for further growth.

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  • 12/8/2008 2:55 PM Jim Stroup wrote:
    I've seen Marine lieutenants so eager to display that particular evidence of leadership that they competed with each other to be last in the chow line in the field. They weren't being insincere, just trying it on for size with commendable, if amusing, enthusiasm.

    The real meaning, of course, is that you don't turn your attention to your own needs until those of your staff have been met. It's not done as a manipulative maneuver to garner superficial loyalty, but as a hard-nosed acknowledgment that those who accomplish the mission must be fed and fit for doing so - and they must know that that commitment is acknowledged and genuinely met. And that means that if the food runs out, those who need it most, upon whom you put the greatest pressure and faith, have been given the priority required.

    One of my first jobs in a major corporation was with an ad agency in Detroit. I worked in the mail room. Strike season came, and the car company targeted that year was my company's major client and source of the vast proportion of its revenues. There was no talk of layoffs from the CEO's office. His message was that we would all hunker down and make it through together. In order to help keep the cash flowing, everyone would pitch in, but not equally. Senior execs would take a 30% pay cut for the duration of the strike, mid-level managers 20%, and everyone else 10%. That's an example of what eating last means in business.

    Great post, Wally - thanks.
    Reply to this
    1. 12/8/2008 6:21 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks for those great comments, Jim. The explanation of how this is a hard-headed and practical way to lead is simply stellar. Thanks for sharing that and the example from your corporate period.


      Reply to this
  • 12/8/2008 3:35 PM Meg Bear wrote:
    absolutely spot on. I love the quote too. I am still shocked at how few leaders are willing to take any cuts themselves when times are tough.
    Reply to this
    1. 12/8/2008 6:23 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks, Meg. I think my father-in-law has it right. It's easy to look good in good times, but a crisis is the time you get to demonstrate what you're made of.


      Reply to this
  • 12/8/2008 7:36 PM Susan Robinson wrote:
    Wally,
    Great post! This gets right to the point. Layoffs may look like quick relief, but they actually carry an enormous price tag - in voluntary turnover, decline in productivity among the "survivors", lost trust, and outright "get even" by employees who feel they've being treated as expenses rather than as people. The toxic fallout is well-documented in an article, "The Myths and Realities of Downsizing" by Sami M. Abbasi and Dr. Kenneth W. Hollman. You've got to wonder why so many leaders are using this knee-jerk approach...
    Reply to this
    1. 12/8/2008 7:45 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks for weighing in and sharing those resources. We may not have studies of the difference between targeted layoffs and mass layoffs, but anyone who's spent time in a workplace after a layoff can attest to the low morale of the survivors who vary often do not have enough team members to do the work. And we have the example of companies like Lincoln Electric, SC Johnson, Toyota, and Nucor that find ways to reduce costs without mass layoffs.


      Reply to this
  • 12/15/2008 1:04 PM Chris Young wrote:
    Great post Wally - you are absolutely right, we are finding out which of our leaders have true character!

    I have featured your post as part of my weekly Rainmaker 'Fab Five' blog picks of the week which can be found here: http://www.maximizepossibility.com/employee_retention/2008/12/the-rainmaker-2.html

    Be well Wally!
    Reply to this
    1. 12/15/2008 5:47 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks for those kind words, Chris and for the honor of making your short list. Before this is all over, I think we'll discover character in some unlikely places and be appalled at some of the leaders we have who turn out to be only looking out for their own skin.


      Reply to this
  • 12/17/2008 6:14 PM Darren A Lossia wrote:
    Very well said. I think it benefits us all to remind people of what leaders should behave like. Eating last is a sign of confidence and faith as well as service.
    Reply to this
    1. 12/18/2008 4:08 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Good point, Darren. In the corporate world, "eating last" means making sure your people are taken care of before you take care of yourself.


      Reply to this
  • 12/26/2008 9:55 AM Evil HR Lady wrote:
    Yes, leadership is very different from being the VP of brackets.
    Reply to this
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