Dune Leadership Lessons : Team First

I have been re-reading Frank Herbert’s Dune anthology and I remembered one of the very first lessons I received in leadership: “Put the people you lead first.”

A long time ago now, I saw the David Lynch’s Dune in a theater with my father and grandfather. For those of you unfamiliar with Dune lore, in the Dune universe, there is this substance, the spice.  It is very rare, only found on a single planet, difficult and dangerous to mine, and extremely valuable.  So valuable that a gram could buy an estate and you could easily carry enough to purchase an entire planet.

The leader, a Duke, of the royal family responsible for mining spice is inspecting this mining operation and events transpire that cause a significant loss of materials, loss of enough spice to buy several planets, and endanger the lives of the men working the mining equipment.  During this sequence, despite the vast wealth of the actual spice, and the commoner status of the men, the Duke reacts in such a way that even his enemies rethink their preconceived notions and opinions of him.  Here is the excerpt:

The Duke was concerned more over the men than he was over the spice.  He risked his own life and that of his son to save the men.  He passed off the loss of a spice crawler with a gesture.  The threat to the men’s lives had him in a rage.  A leader such as that would command fanatic loyalty.  He would be difficult to defeat…I like this Duke. [1]

Leaving the theater that evening, we were discussing the movie, both good and bad points.  However one thing was sticking out to me, how the Duke cared more for his men than the spice.  I asked my father about it.

Dad looked at me and cleared it right up, “A mission is just a mission.  There will always be another one.  There are only a few men you can train, trust, and know will get the job done.  If you care for them and protect them, they will always be there for you to tackle the next mission. Otherwise, you end up with missions, but no one to perform them, which is a much bigger problem in the long run.”

As a leader in many different organizations, I have always tried to live by this lesson from Frank Herbert and my father.  Put your team first.  Create an environment where they know they can fail safely and be rewarded for success.  Recruiting, on-boarding, and training are very expensive. Isn’t it just easier to treat team members with respect, give them mentorship, and show them you put their needs first?

All to often we see managers forget this.  Leaders know it instinctively, but managers put themselves first, and the company before their team.  This keeps the teams from caring about the company’s needs, and they will not bother going above and beyond for a manager.  A leader, a real leader that leads and puts their team first, will never have to ask for team members to go the extra mile, it will just happen.

Recently during an interview for a position for which I was the one being interviewed, I was asked how I could motivate my team to really push through a difficult deadline or deliverable.  My answer may have been more succinct than they were expecting: “If I have a history of ensuring the team is feeling secure and cared for, they will not have any qualms about putting in the effort or focus that is requested of them. They know and feel it is only fair and it will all work out in the end.”

Take care of your team.  They in turn will take care of you.  And together, you will take care of the company.

  1. Frank Herbert, Dune (Chilton Book Co, 1965), 155