Leaders Eat Last

“The cost of leadership is self interest.”

Says Simon Sinek in his remarkable talk “Why Leaders Eat Last” at a recent Behance conference. The talk is based on his upcoming book Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, which will be released on January 7th.

In the book and in this talk Sinek talks about how the chemicals in our body–the very chemicals that enabled homo sapiens to thrive–can be used to help or hurt our organizations and our very lives. Importantly, our leaders play a key role in how those chemicals are distributed in our body.

Endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and cortisol are important to our survival. We need them, in balance. When unbalanced, they not only create physical and psychological problems in us, but in our corporations. And our leaders have a direct bearing on the amount of those chemicals in our bodies.

Alas, most of our “leaders” are failing us. They are violating the very contract that put them in the position of leadership.

We’ve all been asked the question “what is leadership?” at some point. Or we’ve asked ourselves how we might become better leaders. Simon Sinek provides the best definition of leadership I’ve heard.

“If you decide to look after the person to the left and to the right of you, you have become a leader.”

That’s it. When you extend the circle of safety, you become a leader. Not when you balance the books of your company on the backs of your employees by laying them off to make the numbers. While you collect a massive bonus for yourself and justify it as “increasing shareholder value.”

And then wonder why your employees aren’t innovative. Or why they don’t get it when you give them a pittance of restricted stock units. Or wonder why employees bolt for the doors at the slightest hint of trouble or for just a few more bucks. When we’re not safe, we tend to look out for number one.

The saddest thing about our leaders’ failure is that humans are not wired to look out for number one. We’re built to look out for each other and to help each other succeed. We just need real leaders.

The talk is worth watching. Oh, I happen to really like it because the title has been my #1 leadership value for a number of years!

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2 Responses to Leaders Eat Last

  1. suebrady5 says:

    ‘Leaders eat last’ is such sound advice. Corporate America would be a much kinder and gentler place if everyone adopted that philosophy. I need to read up on the chemical angle as related to our leaders. I haven’t heard that before, but on the surface it makes so much sense.


  2. markpilip says:

    On my to-do list is boning up on biology. His example of how cortisol works really hit home. At one of our former companies, we saw what happened when the layoffs came–which never, it seemed, slowed down the top level executive bonuses. Everybody froze up and started getting paranoid. People stopped looking at external dangers and looked for internal dangers.

    Since then, I’ve learned to look for paranoid and odd behavior. At another company I worked for, a number of folks on our team started noticing the people were acting weird–bizarre ideas, rudeness, no teamwork. And this was from people that we’d worked well with in the past. Sure enough, months later, the reorgs, layoffs, etc. started. The rank and file had the fear spreading through them, probably because just one person noticed something odd.

    What happened in the time before the reorgs and layoffs? A lot less than usual, for sure, and the fear started to spread to our team–even when I KNEW nothing was up.


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