Pursue What Matters
Episode 82: Leaders Eat Last Book Review
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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Is it true that leaders should eat last? Well join me today as I review the book leaders eat last, why some teams pull together and others don’t?
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:17
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Welcome to the pursue what matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. Well, today, we are going to review the book Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and others don’t by Simon Sinek. And of course, he is a best selling author. He’s a very highly regarded speaker, very popular, he’s got lots of videos that you can find online, I will link to some. But yeah, he is. He’s very popular. His first book, or I don’t know if it was his first book, but it’s definitely what kind of put him on the map is Start With Why. And it’s been, you know, pretty groundbreaking for a lot of people or something that really resonates. And it is the idea of starting with purpose in mind. And so he’s a very popular writer and a speaker on the topics of leadership. And of course, with this book leaders eat last, he’s really focusing on what it takes to lead and how you can apply that to leading a team. And he talks a lot about culture in this book. And so I thought it would be a great book for us to take a look at.
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:06
So first, let’s learn a little bit about Sinek. And this book, so it first came out in 2014. And then there was another edition in 2017. And in the newer edition in 2017, there was an expanded chapter on leading millennials, of course, that’s really popular these days. Because one of the one of the messages when it comes to leading millennials is that millennials really care a lot about purpose, they care about working at an organization where they can connect to purpose, which, you know, that’s, that’s music to my ears. And so he added an expanded chapter about how you can connect to that and really speak to that. And so it’s a good book, I think there’s a lot of value. It’s a thick book, there’s, he’s, he’s a really good storyteller. And so if you’ve ever listened to him speak or watched any of his videos, He’s, uh, you know, he’s got TED Talks, and, and that sort of thing. He’s very entertaining, really a great, great storyteller. He’s done a ton of work with the military, with big, big organizations throughout the world. And so he is fun and entertaining to listen to. And I think he’s got a lot of ideas and concepts that just make a lot of sense for people. And so let’s, let’s find out a little bit about him. So and in his first book, right, Start With Why, Sinek really talked about, in order for organizations to be successful, leaders need to understand the true purpose of their organization, the why right, and that they need to be able to speak to that. And then the focus in this book, so in Leaders Eat Last, Simon, and this is from the foreword, “takes us to the next level of understanding why some organizations do better than others.” And so he talks about leadership challenges. And he talks about like, where do some organizations fall apart where others thrive, and identifies some of the leadership challenges and the difference between the difference between leadership and management and so that is really the focus of this book.
Dr. Melissa Smith 4:43
Okay, so in a bio of Simon Sinek. It says Simon Sinek is an unshakable optimist who believes in a bright future and our ability to build it together, he discovered remarkable patterns about how the greatest leaders and organizations think, act and communicate He may be best known for popular, popularizing the concept of why, in his first TED talk in 2009, it rose to become the third most watched on ted.com with over 40 million views and subtitled in 47 languages and I will link to that Ted Talk. Simon is the author of multiple best selling books including Start With Why a global bestseller Leaders Eat Last New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller Together Is Better New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. Find Your Why and The Infinite Game. So that is a little bit about that a little bit about Simon.
Dr. Melissa Smith 5:46
Okay, so let’s learn a little bit more about this book. So, as Simon Sinek has worked with teams and leaders all over the world, what he noticed is that some teams had a lot of trust, and they would literally put their lives on the line for each other. So for example, he’s done a lot of work with military and Special Forces and other teams, no matter what incentives are offered, they were doomed to inviting fragmentation and failure. And so of course, he started to ask why, right, like, what is the difference? And he said that the answer became clear to him during a conversation with a Marine Corps general. And the answer was officers eat last. And so Simon said that he watched as the most junior Marines ate first, while the most senior Marines took their place at the back of the line. And so what is symbolic in the chow hall is deadly serious on the battlefield, great leaders sacrifice their own comfort, even their own survival for the good of those in their care. And so Simon really takes that as his foundation. And his analogy for this book. So too many workplaces are driven by cynicism, paranoia and self interest, but the best ones foster trust and cooperation, because their leaders build what Simon calls a circle of safety, that separates the security inside the team from the challenges outside. And and so you know, he illustrates his ideas with fascinating true stories that range from the military, to big business, from government to investment baking. And like I said, I think one of the things that Simon does really well is he’s a great storyteller. And so the book is interesting, it’s engaging. And he’s got great stories that illustrate the principles and the concepts that he is talking about in the book. And so in that way, it’s really entertaining. But I think the principles also make sense. I do think some, some of the points are a little bit stretched. But I think that can be true for a lot of things we come across. So I would just say that, as well.
Dr. Melissa Smith 8:12
And so let’s go over some of the key concepts. And then I just want to talk about some of the leadership lessons for us. So some of the main points of the book. So you know, I think an overview for for us with this book is that you know, an organization’s biggest strength is not in its products or its services, it will always be in its people and their ability to cooperate closely and rally behind the organization, especially during a crisis. And boy, isn’t that relevant for us today. But here is the thing that he talks about, loyalty and commitment must be earned. So right like if you are a leader, you do not expect loyalty, and commitment and trust, right, like, just like anything, it must be earned. And so unfortunately, a lot of work has become a contractual and transactional relationship. And there’s a lot of competition. There’s a lot of layoffs. And so, you know, if we’re not careful, there’s not much loyalty. And so that is one of the challenges that we faced. And of course, what Simon is saying is that we’ve got to find a way back to loyalty. And we’ve got to find a way back to trust if we want to be successful and if we want to, if we want to create the kind of organizations that are really empowering and you know, his last line and really it’s the message throughout the book is be the kind of leader you would want to work for. And so that’s really the key.
Dr. Melissa Smith 10:03
And so one of the things that he talks about in the book is that, you know, we have these four chemicals, right? That each that are better operating at any given time for us, right. So he calls them, you know the EDS up. So right, like, we’ve got endorphins that are there to hide pain, we’ve got dopamine to help us feel good. When we’re accomplishing a goal, we’ve got serotonin, to help us to feel grateful for the people who support us. So it’s all about that. So social connection. And then also oxytocin, which helps us it is the hugging hormone, right is responsible for love, and it’s released when hugging or bonding. And so Sinek talks about this, and, and helps us to see that you know, that these chemicals are all at play both on the individual level, and as part of social groups. So think about this when it comes to work. So this dilemma also happens in our bodies via the four chemicals. So when we think about endorphins and dopamine, they drive us to satisfy our personal needs or individual needs. So if you think about food, and shelter, and developing solutions to get through problems, and they really help us to, you know, survive. And then let’s think about serotonin and oxytocin. So these are designed to help us work together with others. So they’re all about social connection. So they build feelings of trust, camaraderie, loyalty, and really help us strengthen our social connections, and increase our inclination to cooperate and collaborate with others, because here’s the thing, we cannot achieve everything on our own. And so Simon talks about balancing these chemicals, right, and that we really need to balance those because they are nature’s way of helping us to survive by balancing our personal drive, and our social needs. And so we really need to do that. Because if we only operate on endorphins and dopamine, right, we’re going to be alone.
Dr. Melissa Smith 12:16
And if we only focus on serotonin, and oxytocin, we might not get anything done. And so we need to balance those. And so think about that in terms of work. So it traditionally, right, our family provides safety for us. And one of the primary concepts in the book is what’s known as the circle of safety. And so traditionally, our family provided the circle of safety where we would feel safe and supported. Inside that circle, we have that healthy balance of those of those hormones, right, where we, you know, we had some individual drive, but we also had the security of the group. So we have the belonging and the security, we feel valued and cared for. And that was really good, and really, really important. But when we feel threatened, either by internal politics or infighting, we can turn our attention inward to focus on self preservation, making the group more vulnerable as a whole. And so that’s, that’s what’s important to understand about the circle of safety. And the thing to pay attention to is that our work settings have become, you know, in addition to the family, in addition to other social settings, a circle of safety. That’s what Simon argues we want it to be. So more than ever, he argues, we need leaders to create circles of safety and positive, fulfilling work environments. So to be the leader we wish we had. And so I I don’t think that he’s saying that work should fulfill all of your needs. I mean, I don’t think that that’s true. But I think what he’s saying is work should be a place where you can trust work should be a place where there’s loyalty work should be a place where you can collaborate work should be a place where you can connect, and really contribute your best work, and that you shouldn’t feel threatened at work that you shouldn’t feel under assault at work. And so that’s really the key with the circle of safety. And that it is another place where we have that, that type of connection, and that type of security. And so that is one of the most important concepts that Simon talks about in the book. He talks about a lot of other concepts but I am not going to go into those But if you understand the circle of safety, that’s a pretty darn good foundation. And now I want to talk about some of the key leadership lessons that he talks about, because I think these can really help you strengthen your love and work. So help you strengthen your leadership. And there are five key leadership lessons that I want to mention for you. So this can hopefully help you to consider whether you might check out this book. And if not, it’s at least really helpful to just kind of consider these leadership lessons, because I think they are very helpful.
Dr. Melissa Smith 15:38
So leadership, lesson one, so goes the culture, so goes the company. And so Simon’s point here is that you cannot have a strong company without a strong culture. And I think most of us know that intuitively. So you just there’s no way that you can have a strong successful company without a strong organizational culture. And it will just eat itself from the inside out, if you don’t and so a strong organizational culture recognizes that all are equals among men. And this is a quote from synack. In the book, you can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him. So you know, how does a leader treat those that work with her? Is everyone in equal? Or are their favorites is they’re talking down to people, and there is absolutely no place for that. And so, so goes the culture. so goes the company, leadership.
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:54
Lesson two, so goes the leader, so goes the culture. And so what does that mean, you cannot have a strong culture without a strong leader. So your leader sets the tone and the behavior for the organization. And I think we all know that that is true as well. The leader alone is not responsible for the culture for sure that is not true. But your leader sets the tone and the behavior for the organization. And so it is impossible to have a strong culture without a strong leader. Because that is who people are looking to that is the example. And boy that can be for good or ill. So be careful about that one.
Dr. Melissa Smith 17:44
And then a leadership, lesson three: integrity matters. So when we cannot trust our leaders, the fabric of our organization begins to fall apart. And with this leadership lesson, he talks about three things. So he talks about integrity, he talks about honesty, and then he talks about accountability. And I think those are three really helpful distinctions just to pay attention to like, what does that look like, day in and day out? So it’s like just being honest, like telling the truth, and holding yourself accountable. Because right, like it’s leading from the front, like holding yourself accountable, is part of integrity. It’s such an important part of integrity.
Dr. Melissa Smith 18:29
And then leadership lesson four: friends matter. I really like this because it really speaks to the social connection, which of course, he is focusing on throughout the book. So one of the examples that he talks about is that you have the US Congress, right, like when they what what they used to have is, you know, the US Congress members used to all move to DC with their families. And they lived and worked together. Their families, you know, went to church together, they went to their kids went to school together, they, you know, they would see each other at soccer games and, and social events. And, and what what cynic says is that the US Congress was more effective when the Congress members were living and working together, and that they could socialize afterwards, rather than just having these intense, heated debates around policy issues, without any sort of a buffering connections at the social level. And of course, that really does not happen much anymore, because many Congress members do not live full time in Washington, DC, you know that the nature of air travel, it’s so much easier for most Congress members to just fly in and fly out and so many Many of their families have elected have elected to stay in their home states. And so there’s this has been one of the the costs of that, according to synack. And so when we interact in the public square, at the grocery store in neighborhoods, church, soccer games, we have opportunities to connect at the human level. And, you know, see that we have a lot of similarities. And we have opportunities to develop deeper connections. And so he really talks about the importance of this and the value of this, when it comes to our work lives. And that friends really matter. And of course, I think we all recognize that. But it’s so easy to just be heads down, and so focused on the work, that if you’re not careful, you’re not cultivating the social connection. And so I really liked that that was one of his top leadership lessons.
Dr. Melissa Smith 20:59
And then finally, the fifth leadership lesson is lead the people, not the numbers. And so his argument here is that a relentless focus on numbers will erode your culture from the inside out. And he actually, so this is a I think it was a provocative choice for him. I think he makes a pretty good a good case for it. So he talks about, he talks about neutron jack. So Geez, jack welch, who, of course, has been described as one of the most successful CEOs probably like the most successful CEO in the US, of course, it’s a global company. Of course, you’re tired now. But he had. So jack welch had a relentless focus on numbers. And in fact that the performance improvement performance review process of GE was pretty, pretty intense, to say the least, the measures that GE went to it was pretty, pretty relentless. But GE was also very, very successful. And Simon makes the case that, that actually, Jack Welch wasn’t as successful as, as everyone believed that he was, and that this type of directive leadership, that Jack Welch was, and is actually, you know, not the most effective type of leader and that over time, it can erode your culture. And of course, you know, with, with Kack, I think what’s hard is it’s always, it’s always incredibly difficult to come in after someone like jack Walsh, I mean, that’s just like, destined for trouble. But it’s it’s been interesting to see what’s happened to GE after, after his departure. And, and so it has not, GE has not fared very well, in recent years. And so, you know, is there something to that something maybe just to be curious about, but Simon talks about this directive leadership style as not helpful, and that you’ve got to lead the people, not the numbers.
Dr. Melissa Smith 23:32
And so as a counter example, he talks about, he talks about someone else who many people do not know, although there have been some profiles about this CEO in in, you know, recent years and that is Costco’s James Sinegal. He is retired now. So he led the company for several, several years, I think, several decades, but retired in 2012. And what Simon says is that you’ve got to lead people and do what’s best for your people while balancing the needs of the market. And so you know, what Simon says is that in the long run, empowering leaders, like he says, James Sinegal of Costco, he says, These empowering leaders do better. And so one of the things he said about cynical So, you know, the thing about cynical he really, he never had an elaborate pay. He really focused on great benefits for his people. The, you know, in retail, Costco is known as like the best company to work for in terms of retail, it’s like people, people that work for Costco, like they stay there, like the turnover is super low. And I don’t know how it is at Costco now, I think it’s still very favorable. But ultimately, and what Simon says is that Simon says, oh, everyone remember that game. So Simon says that, in the long run empowering leaders that are really focused on leading people tend tend to be more successful in the long run. And so you’ve got to keep your eye on what matters, which is the people, not the numbers. And so, a quote from the book managers look after numbers, leaders look after people. And I think that’s a that’s a helpful distinction.
Dr. Melissa Smith 25:43
Okay, so there you go. There are five leadership lessons from Simon Sinek’s book. Leaders eat last. So lesson one, so goes the culture so goes the company, less than two so goes the leader, so goes the culture, lesson three, integrity matters. lesson four friends matter. Lesson five, lead the people not the numbers. And so I do think this is a book worth checking out, it’s been around and updated, it was updated again in 2017. And, and I think definitely worth checking out. So it’s long on stories short on research. So you know, that’s helpful to know. But I will link to the book and assignments website to his TED Talk. And and some of his other videos, he’s got some really great videos and you can find all of that by heading over to my website to to access the show. notes www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-82 one more time, that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-82 I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work work in love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai