Leaders Eat Last | Simon Sinek


Main Theme: Leadership and Serving Others
For People Who: Are interested in growing organizations with healthy cultures.

I was very excited to read Leaders Eat Last. I haven’t read anything from Simon Sinek before and was looking forward to reading a new author. I must say, he caught my attention immediately. When a book starts out by dropping you into an A-10 Thunderbolt “Warthog” aircraft while it is strafing enemy combatants in Afghanistan, I’m fairly certain you’ll have my attention for the entire book. Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. It was hit and miss at times, decently repetitive (that is to say, which books aren’t repetitive at some point, but this book had an okay measure of it), and didn’t provide any new information for anyone who is well read on the topic of leadership. I think one quote sums it up nicely:

Everything about being a leader is like being a parent. It is about committing to the well-being of those in our care and having a willingness to make sacrifices to see their interests advanced so that they may carry our banner long after we are gone. –Leaders Eat Last, pg 215

Take-Aways

  • As leaders, it is our responsibility to create a culture of safety within the organizations we lead. We do this by offering trust, empathy and power. By doing so, we create a “Circle of Safety.”
  • Danger should not come from within the organization. This occurs when people are pitted against one another and choose ‘success’ and ‘achievement’ at all cost. Usually the cost we pay is a culture of trust and health.
  • People don’t mind giving perks to leaders who have given sacrificially to protect the people they lead. In fact, it would bother them if a leader didn’t. But when a leader fails to provide protection and yet takes advantage of the perks, followers see the leader as a crook, a cheat, and a fake. Leaders have to earn the right to be followed.
  • We are social creatures not meant to live and work in isolation. When people do not feel connection with others in the organization it dehumanizes them and causes them to have less trust and commitment to the organization.
  • “Leadership is about taking responsibility for lives and not numbers.” (pg. 183) We must constantly remember that our work isn’t about numbers, it’s about people. And when we lose sight of that, we lose sight of what it means to be a leader.
  • People may follow your every order, but you’ve removed their freedom to think for themselves. Extend trust to others and allow yourself the freedom to admit when you are wrong.

Brief Summary

Part 1: Our Need to Feel Safe

He makes the claim that 80% of people don’t even like going to work on a daily basis. Think about it, 8 out of 10 people in this country are not inspired when they work. They aren’t interested in making the organization better. And if a better offer came along they would feel no sense of loyalty to stay. Grant it, some people will always feel that way because of who they are, but it is the leader’s responsibility to create a culture of safety, a culture of connection and belonging.

We need to build more organizations that prioritize the care of human beings. As leaders, it is our sole responsibility to protect our people and, in turn, our people will protect each other and advance the organization together. -Leaders Eat Last, pg 18

It is easy to know when we are in the Circle of Safety because we can feel it. We feel valued by our colleagues and we feel cared for by our superiors…Absent a Circle of Safety, paranoia, cynicism and self-interest prevail. The whole purpose of maintaining the Circle of Safety is so that we can invest all our time and energy to guard against the dangers outside. –Leader Eat Last, pg 24

Part 2: Powerful Forces

This part forms a large portion of the basis for the book. He says our brains provide different chemicals that cause us to respond in favorable ways. (I take issue with the idea that our feelings/sensations are merely chemicals secreted in the brain, but that is for another day) The chemicals are endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. Two chemicals – endorphins and dopamine – make us feel good and want to accomplish goals. These drive us to make progress. The other two chemicals – oxytocin and serotonin – are chemicals that make us feel proud to work with others and give us the feeling of friendship and trust. These chemicals (EDSO) form the backdrop of leadership and healthy cultures. If they stay balanced then:

…we gain…Courage, inspiration, foresight, creativity and empathy… –Leaders Eat Last, pg 71

Part 3: Reality

We cannot ‘trust’ rules or technology. We can rely on them, for sure, but trust them? No. Trust is a very special human experience, produced by the chemical oxytocin in response to acts performed on our behalf that serve our safety and protection. –Leaders Eat Last, pg 74

Part 4: How We Got Here

This section is a summary of how the culture of leaders/CEOs/managers got to where they are today. That is to say, the Greatest Generation grew up in a world where they had nothing. They had to work hard to make it alive through the Great Depression only to have their young lives swept up in World War II. They didn’t really have childhoods at all. So they wanted their children, the Baby Boomers, to have every opportunity to do so.

It was the Boomers who wanted to walk away from the Leave It to Beaver “good life” and embraced “individualism, free love, and narcissism” (pg 88). The Boomers forced civil rights, demanded better pay for women, and much more, but then became more self-centered as the decades of affluence and GDP growth passed by. Thomas Wolfe described them in 1976 as the “Me” decade. Business practices began to change, mass layoffs became the answer to every difficult economy. Rather then being committed to an organization and vice-versa, employees began to feel a sense that they could lose their job at any time.

We no longer see each other as people; we are now customers, shareholders, employees, avatars, online profiles, screen names, e-mail addresses and expenses to be tracked. The human being really has gone virtual…The problem is, abstraction can be more than bad for our economy…it can be quite deadly. -Leaders Eat Last, pg 98

Part 5: The Abstract Challenge

It is so easy to disconnect numbers from people. So here are some rules to follow:

  1. Keep It Real – Bring People Together: Technology is wonderful, but nothing can replace face-to-face interaction. Even bloggers have a national convention they can attend to meet face-to-face with each other.
  2. Keep It Manageable – Obey Dunbar’s Number: This comes from the idea that a human being can only maintain 150 relationships. Once that number is exceeded, relationships fundamentally change. In some cases, they cease to exist.
  3. Meet People You Help
  4. Give Them Time, Not Just Money: What makes someone stay connected to an organization, even when more money or a better experience is offered to them, is when they believe the leader of their current organization would be willing to sacrifice their time and energy to help them.
  5. Be Patient – The Rule of Seven Days and Seven Years: Trust takes somewhere between seven days and seven years to build.

Part 6: Destructive Abundance

In a weak culture, we veer away from doing ‘the right thing’ in favor of doing ‘the thing that’s right for me. –Leaders Eat Last, pg 129

If character describes how an individual thinks and acts, then the culture of an organization describes the character of a group of people and how they think and act as a collective. –Leaders Eat Last, pg 130

In this section, there are some incredibly powerful stories of how the character of leaders impacted the leadership of the culture around them. One example is of a man named Stanley O’Neal who became the CEO of Merrill Lynch. Another example is of Captian David Marguet who became the captain of the USS Santa Fe, a Los Angeles-class attack submarine. One created a culture in which he absorbed all the power and pitted people against each other to help himself get to the top. The other is of a man who was willing to admit when he was wrong and trust others to lead which produced another generation of leaders. The powerful question is: which will we be? This section alone is worth picking up the book!

Part 7: A Society of Addicts

This is an interesting chapter. Especially how it bridges the gaps between the Boomers and the Gen-Yers. This quote sums up the effect the previous generations have had on the youngest:

Without giving any significant amount of time or energy, a generation comfortable with abstraction has confused real commitment with symbolic gestures. –Leaders Eat Last, pg 199

What he seems to say is that while this generation is willing to tweet and post supportive pictures of different causes from around the world, they get excited about a cause but do very little to really do anything about it. Previous generations have made people less human and more abstract. So we don’t see people anymore, we simply see numbers (profits, layoffs, goals, etc). They’ve learned to live with the idea that people are abstract. “This ‘see it and get it’ generation has an awareness of where they are standing and they know where they want to get to; what they can’t seem to understand is the journey, the very time-consuming journey.” -Leaders Eat Last, pg 199.

Part 8: Becoming A Leader

We no longer, generally, work to survive like men of old. We have an abundance of resources at our disposal. And that’s precisely what we do with much of them: the average American home throws away nearly $600 worth of food every year. We have too much and throw much of it away. While many in the world have too little because they don’t have the means to store it properly. And when we have an abundance of something, it begins to lose value. Here is a powerful quote:

Abundance destroys value. It is not when things come easily that we appreciate them, but when we have to work hard for them or when they are hard to get that those things have greater value to us. Be it a diamond deep in the ground, career, success or a relationship, it is the struggle it takes to make it work that helps give that thing its value. –Leaders Eat Last, pg 208

When leaders decide to serve others, that is what makes them leaders worth following. Rather than leading for perks or for self-interest, leaders make the greatest impact when they sacrifice ‘self-interest’ and sacrifice themselves for others. It only happens, when leaders eat last.

Information and Personal Rating

General Information:

Personal Ratings (1-10)

  • Applicability: 7
  • Readability: 8
  • Originality: 6
  • Recommendation: Yes
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