Leaders Eat Last

Start with Why changed the way I thought about leadership and business. I was bought in from the first time I heard Simon Sinek talk about the concept. Naturally, when I learned he was writing another book I was eager to get my hands on it. I was also privileged to hear him speak from the content of his book at Leadercast this year. His talk only spurred me on to get his book and after the event I picked up a copy of Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Other’s Don’t.

The title is inspired by the way the Marines eat their meals. They line up in rank order: from the junior Marines all the way to the most senior officers. The junior Marines eat first and the most senior officers last—when they are in barracks and in the field. Sinek uses this example in his argument that in times of trouble it is (or at least should be) the natural instinct for the leader to sacrifice himself for his team. Unfortunately, the many of the bosses in management today have been educated in a culture that rewards those who look out for themselves rather than others. Sinek argues that the most successful bosses and companies exercise a concept called the Circle of Safety—a place where people feel like the those they work with will protect them regardless of the situation. He suggests that this idea is hardwired within humanity and that the chemical processes in our biological wiring reenforce this concept. However, the past decades have seen CEOs, bosses, and managers only extend the Circle of Safety to immediate employees, managers, or executives. He uses examples like Jack Welch who, when he was CEO at GE, would cut upwards of 25% of the bottom level employees every year to balance the bottom line. No wonder, Sinek argues, people are always on-edge and looking for another job opportunity; it’s because they don’t feel safe and for a good reason!

At the heart of Sinek’s argument is the belief that leaders should be on the lookout for their employees. It goes further than just emotional intelligence although that is a start. In order for people to feel like they are safe it starts with the leaders extending a circle of safety around all of those they lead in good time and bad. Sinek gives inspiring examples of CEOs who choose to save the people over the numbers, groups of employees who band together during pay cuts to help out their fellow employee, and a pilot who gave ground support and saved Marines on the ground that show leaders can put others ahead of themselves and come out on top.

With simplicity and clarity that on Simon Sinek can bring, Leaders Eat Last is a common-sense manifesto that challenges leaders to look out for someone other than their own interest. Because when you the leader eats last, those you lead end up feeling safer and, because they feel safe, they become more loyal to you and their work. When you put people before the numbers, everyone wins.

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