People First Leadership: A book review by Bob Morris

people-firstPeople First Leadership: How the Best Leaders Use Culture and Emotion to Drive Unprecedented Results
Eduardo P. Braun
McGraw Hill Education (October 2016)

How and why a leader is anyone who wishes to change reality, transform it, and make it better for everyone

In an essay published in 1970, Robert K. Greenleaf observes: “The servant-leader is servant first…It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possession…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.

“The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?“

This is precisely what Eduardo Braun has in mind when sharing his thoughts about “people first leadership.” With all due respect to the importance of strategy to an organization’s success, he explains, he began to discover “a new reality, one that revealed to me that the key to good performance is to manage people’s hearts and minds.”

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Braun’s coverage:

o Chief Emotions Officer (Pages 12-13, 56-59, and 239-278)
o Culture (15-45 and 201-238)
o Strategy (17-21 and 73-78)
o Value (24-31)
o Southwest Airlines (36-39)
o Emotions (47-67)
o Vision (69-98)
o Passion (86-87 and 261-265)
o People (99-132)
o Communication 133-160)
o Decision making (161-200)
o Sir Ken Robinson on creativity (217-218)
o Balanced leadership (254-256)
o Pope Francis (266-278)

The diverse leaders and leadership styles examined in this book include (in alpha order) Richard Branson, Carlos Brito, Bill Clinton, Francis Ford Coppola, Carly Fiorina, Pope Francis, Carlos Ghosn, Rudy Giuliani, Tony Hsieh, Steve Jobs, Herb Keller, Colin Powell, and Jack Welch. However different they all may be in most respects, they use culture and emotion to drive unprecedented results. In some instances, notably GE’s acquisition of Kidder, Peabody & Company, abuse of the same forces (culture and emotion) can lead to what Welch has since acknowledged to be “the biggest failure” of his otherwise exemplary career.

I agree with Braun that doing what is right (i.e. what is ethical, moral, legal) is of course admirable but it is also, perhaps paradoxically, a very shrewd business strategy. As he observes, “investing in a organizational culture with an emphasis on trust yields tangible results. No only do companies with the best working environments experience half as much voluntary turnover as the industry average (thus saving money on employee recruitment and training), but they also enjoy better financial results: some have reported more than double the return on investment, and in other cases, up to 1,200 percent increase in annual profits.”

It is no coincidence that companies annually ranked among those that are most highly profitable and best to work for are also annually ranked among those most profitable with the greatest cap value in their industry segment.

Frequently, observations offered in a prologue or preface can also serve as an appropriate conclusion to a brief commentary such as this one. Eduardo Braun: “Of course, how you weave in different roles and suggestions [provided in this book] depends on who you are and the constantly changing context, but I am convinced that the essence of leadership remains the same: the CEO of the future is an agent of change with the passion to drive toward a dream while caring for the people in the organization and awakening the positive emotions that enable them to achieve true success individually and as a group.”

These astute observations remind me of this passage from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know;
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

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1 Comment

  1. Jodie on November 23, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    Thanks for the review Bob. Sounds like a great book. A refreshing change from most books which seem to focus on charismatic leaders to a narrative which focuses on what leaders can do for their people. Hopefully this is the future of leadership

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