Monthly Archives: February 2015

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t

Leaders Eat Last

Citation for Book: Sinek, Simon. Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t.  New York, New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2014

Recommended by: : Jack J. Chen, Marshall B. Ketchum University

Star Rating (1-5): 5

Review: Leaders Eat Last. This sums up leadership behavior. The title of the book is derived from an observation of culture in the US Marines in which the leaders eat last, placing the needs of others above their own, and illustrating that leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest. Another corollary example he gives is that leaders provide cover from above; allowing the people on the ground to feel safe. This instills loyalty and drives people to excel in situations.

Writing in an easy to understand manner, Mr. Sineks speaks about leadership from an anthropological voice and utilizes facts and observations to illustrate his points. Much of what is discussed relates to organic attributes (such as empathy, integrity, sense of belonging, teamwork, selfishness, distrust, and trust) and how a leader can be more in tune with these primal elements to foster an environment for a healthier organization. The title of the book resonates with me because I immediately understand it’s anthropological underpinnings. As a parent, I often eat last and provide cover from above to my family and children. As an organizational leader, the challenge will be to live up to this credo.

In this book, the anthropological and primal concept of the Circle of Safety is introduced. Leaders, by reducing the threats people feel inside an organization, allows them to focus more time and energy to protect the organization from external threats and to seize opportunities for the advancing the collective. He gives illustrations on how incentive structures within organizations can penalize employees for behaviors such as cooperation, information sharing, or reaching across the organization to ask for or offer help; behaviors that are necessary for maintaining the Circle of Safety. Mr. Sinek devotes 2 chapters on discussing and illustrating the role of neurotransmitters and molecules (e.g., cortisol, dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin) as organic mediators of human behavior, neurocognition, stress, trust, and the Circle of Safety. Mr. Sinek then weaves these organic concepts throughout his book.

Leadership is about taking responsibility for lives and not numbers. Mr. Sinek believes this and provides corollaries to describe the modern state of business cultures in which the sheer scale of systems has made human lives, resources and services into an abstraction of numerical metrics. He provides a clarion call for managers of metrics to become leaders of people. Values alignment is heavily emphasized. If people have values consistent with the organization and they feel trusted and connected, they will excel.

Mr. Sinek speaks about the role of technology throughout the various “generations” (e.g., Gen X and Y), and how it has allowed the unprecedented “upscaling” of world and certain elements such as acquisitions, economies, performances, and processes. As I reflected, I realized that in the world of education, despite technological advances in instructional tools and delivery, our students’ inherent “learning speed” cannot be scaled up by technology (despite what we or our students think) and that time-tested, traditional methods of andragogy/pedagogy still have a fundamental place in the classroom. My students are someone’s children. Their parents worked hard to give their children an opportunity for a good life and education. As an academician, I have responsibility for that education.

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Filed under Changing Perceptions/Paradigms, Defining Leadership: Theories & Models, Instructor Resources