Leaders Eat Last

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  1. #1
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    Leaders Eat Last

    There’s fewer things more obnoxious than voicing a legitimate criticism about work - or anything for that matter- and the people around you say, “That’s just the way it is.” It’s like, no shit. These are the same people who say “Nothing can be done about it.”, “It’s like that everywhere.”, and “It’s always been like that and will never change.” What a depressing attitude. It’s the attitude of losers and quitters.

    Simon Sinek adequately (but perhaps unwittingly) counters such bleating on page 272. “We are not victims of our situation. We are the architects of it.” In my experience, those who say any variation of the sorry excuses above are also those who trapped themselves in that job. Any questioning of the status quo makes them painfully aware of that fact. And rather than challenge me to come up with a solution, let alone help me, they wanted me to be stuck in that job with them. Misery loves company. I have sympathy for them, although it was they who decided to marry, have children, and take on all sorts of other financial responsibilities before finding a job that was fulfilling. However, there’s something absolutely, inexcusably insidious about insisting it can be no other way and that you and I would do well to resign ourselves to the same fate, the sooner the better. That I have no sympathy for because that is a lie.

    In his inspiring book, Leaders Eat Last, motivational speaker and marketing consultant Simon Sinek tackles the increasingly toxic culture in today’s workplace; the causes, how it can be addressed, and what happens if we don’t. It’s a vast, difficult, complex topic, but Sinek’s big-picture approach works well enough. Still, at times it feels like the book is trying to cover too many things at once, and speak to too many different people at once. There’s a lot going on.

    The intended audience is supposed to be current and future leaders. Every single story that Sinek uses to demonstrate his points are either about leaders or people who learned what it means to be one (or failed to be one). Majority of the problems that he outlines with the modern workplace are traced back to weak leadership, or a lack of leadership altogether.

    Sinek doesn’t say anything particularly new about leadership in terms of what qualities make for a great leader and so on. Rather, his intention is to differentiate leaders from managers. He quotes the CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, Bob Chapman, on page 119: “No one wakes up in the morning to go to work with the hope that someone will manage us. We wake up in the morning and go to work with the hope that someone will lead us.” I believe this is an important distinction to make. It’s consistent with Sinek’s vision of a world where the “majority of people wake up inspired to go to work”.

    So, what separates leaders from managers? This is a question that is unpacked throughout the whole book.

    Leaders build and maintain a Circle of Safety. Not inner-circles behind closed doors. This means many different things and Sinek illustrates this in a variety of ways. The most convincing are the examples set by the United States military, which is where the name of the book comes from. Officers eat last. The lowest ranking troops are at the front of the mess hall line. This is the same mentality that informs everything happening out on the battlefield where it’s life or death.

    Leaders make those under their wing feel safe first. Hence the Circle of Safety. Businesses always face dangers coming from outside, such as competitors and natural disasters. What there cannot be is danger within the company. If your superiors have set-up metaphorical machineguns (annual threat of layoffs, for example) behind you and your co-workers, and that is your motivation for charging toward the carrot they’ve dangled in front of you, there’s a serious problem. Yet this kind of practice is far more common than you might think.

    There’s deep biological and psychological support for the Circle of Safety model. On page 46, Sinek identifies four main chemical components and separates them into two categories. Endorphins and dopamine he refers to as the “selfish chemicals”. Serotonin and oxytocin he refers to as the “selfless chemicals”. The selfish chemicals “help us where we need to go as individuals”, whereas the selfless chemicals “incentivize us to work together and develop feelings of trust and loyalty.” It’s an important distinction, as one of Sinek’s primary points is that a healthy workplace culture reflects a stable balance of these chemicals. An imbalance leads to increased cortisol and stress.

    According to Sinek on pages 49 through 53, dopamine is “the reason for the good feeling we get when we find something we’re looking for or do something that needs to get done.” Examples he includes are setting and reaching goals, completing projects, and the satisfaction of checking an item off your to-do list. But dopamine is also highly addictive, he continues, and has the potential to reinforce negative behaviors such as doing drugs, gambling, and can even be hi-jacked by social media. Similarly, “we can become addicted to making the numbers” in jobs that are overly-focused on personal performance.

    Serotonin helps build bonds between “parent and child, teacher and student, coach and player, boss and employee, leader and follower”. We feel valued when people are proud of us. In return, we thank those who supported us in our efforts because we feel accountable to them. The currency of this transaction, so to speak, is serotonin. The catch is that “we can’t feel a sense of accountability to numbers; we can only feel accountable to people.” (Sinek, 58.)

    Can you see the problem, then, if a business is too concerned with “making the numbers” and treats all of their employees like they themselves are numbers? You’re looking at people who will do anything to get a raise or a promotion, and will protect themselves at the expense of others. Any real sense of accountability and responsibility will be undermined by an every-man-for-himself mentality. People will jump at the opportunity to sacrifice others, but never themselves. It won’t be long until people are careful about what they say and who they say it to. This kind of environment is a breeding ground for distrust, drama, gossip, and will constantly generate stress. Or, in one word, cortisol.

    This is just off the top of my head, but it seems to me that the average person spends around one-fourth to one-third of their life working. For that reason, I say problems in our workplace ought not be treated any more flippantly than how well we sleep. As Sinek explains on page 70, cortisol is an emergency response that shuts down functions deemed unnecessary to our immediate survival, including digestion, growth, and our immune system; those are not things you want happening chronically to your body. Headaches are the least of your worries. It raises blood-pressure, increases risk of heart disease, and impairs cognitive function.

    It’s worth pointing out something Sinek fails to mention. No job is stress-free, and some jobs are more stressful than others. Rude customers will always exist, firefighters and law enforcement will go on risking their lives to protect others. Loggers, roofers, and fishermen will continue to have the most dangerous domestic jobs for the foreseeable future. We shouldn’t have any utopian notions about this, and Sinek doesn’t either, although I do think he can be optimistic to a fault. What we must recognize here is that the examples above are all related to external stressors. If we refer back to the Circle of Safety model, external stressors are the many dangers attacking from the outside. If our Circle of Safety is strong and healthy, we are more prepared and willing to deal with external threats even when they’re largely out of our control.

    Besides anecdotal stories, Sinek also cites plenty of research throughout the book. I do think he could have done a better job with this. Strangely, he never quotes anything directly from the studies or their associated researchers. I don’t think he has anything to hide considering he provides all the necessary information for us to look up the studies ourselves, but I think it would have further fortified his credibility and clarity. There are times where I wonder if Sinek was taking a little too much liberty interpreting the research, but it’s impossible to tell unless we go out of our way to double-check for ourselves. It isn’t good practice to force your reader to put down your book.

    As a simple demonstration, let’s take a look at page 18. “According to the Deloitte Shift Index, 80 percent of people are dissatisfied with their jobs.” How is “dissatisfied” defined? Sinek doesn’t say. I concede that I may be missing the forest for the trees here, as 80 percent of a nation’s workforce being dissatisfied with their jobs is an indicator that there are some significant problems in need of addressing.

    Setting my criticism aside for a moment, the big question still remains. What can be done about this?

    From the get go, employers (leaders) can learn more about the Circle of Safety and how to effectively implement it. There’s a great deal of talk today about values. Employers are the ultimate gatekeepers regarding who is allowed into their Circle of Safety (their company). Tolerance and diversity ring hollow if you bring people into your team or hire people into your business who not only don’t share the beliefs and vision, but have beliefs and a vision that are antithetical. The last thing you need is to have your employees and partners dealing with ideological witch-hunts and inquisitions of any stripe. Trust is crucial. Take aboard the average atheist, Christian, Republican and libertarian, and they’ll almost always be able to set aside their differences and act maturely so that they can work together on the ship. Take aboard the average Generation Z political activist, Muslim or Marxist, and you’ve got a mutiny waiting to happen because “setting differences aside” typically isn’t in their programming. And, well, maybe there are some differences that ultimately can’t be merely set aside. The mutineers-in-training can find work elsewhere, undoubtedly on ships that do not welcome libertarians, atheists, or white males-- all in a manner of speaking.

    I often hear of frustrations about how difficult it is to find workers who will take initiative, from leaders who have built workplace cultures that leave their people afraid to make mistakes and try new things, or where their people don’t feel appreciated enough to even bother suggesting new ideas. Maybe the people aren’t even consulted about decisions in the first place regarding anything, ever. Gravitating away from autocratic governance in the workplace is vital. Our public education system is effective at instilling obedience and compliance. The workplaces tend to be designed in much the same way. But research indicates that a lack of control at our job is strongly correlated with greater levels of stress.

    “Decades ago, scientists in Britain set out to study this link between an employee’s place on the corporate ladder and stress, presumably in order to help executives deal with the toll stress was taking on their health and their lives… Researchers found that workers’ stress was not caused by a higher degree of responsibility and pressure usually associated with rank. It is not the demands of the job that cause the most stress, but the degree of control workers feel they have throughout their day. The studies also found that the effort required by a job is not in itself stressful, but rather the imbalance between the effort we give and the reward we feel. Put simply: less control, more stress.” (Sinek, 35). The Whitehall Studies are what’s being referred to here. In a workplace where the employees feel controlled, and don’t feel like they have some control, you reap what you sow.

    However, again there is something unclear about Sinek’s presentation of the research. He first says workers’ stress was not caused by a higher degree of responsibility and pressure. Then he says the demands of the job aren’t what cause the most stress. These two statements are at odds with one another as far as I can tell, and yet Sinek manages to make them in back to back sentences. This is besides the fact that I don’t understand how adding responsibility and pressure doesn’t cause stress, full-stop. That just doesn’t make sense to me, even if we assume the worker in question is competent. What confounds this even more is that I don’t know if the problem is with Sinek’s relaying of the information, which the reader could only figure out by looking up The Whitehall Study themselves.

    There are many more solutions and changes that leaders can make. Sinek does a fine job of describing these, backing them up with interesting stories and powerful evidence. But one opportunity I think he missed is what the individual can do.

    To be fair, Sinek’s intended audience here are current leaders or would-be leaders. He also doesn’t absolve the individual employee of responsibility. I’m paraphrasing here: we need to be the leaders we wish we had. We have to be the change we want to see. I totally agree! I just don’t think he pursues this idea far enough. If a person has pursued a career path that they aren’t good at, or that doesn’t fulfill them, the problem is no longer about the leadership at their job or the culture of their workplace. I’m rather surprised that this isn’t so much as mentioned, considering this strongly relates to the subject matter.

    You may recall I said that I think Sinek can be optimistic to a fault. In my opinion he doesn’t give the devil his due when it comes to socioeconomic factors. I don’t see how you’re going to get the creme-of-the-crop employees and leaders in poor areas that are riddled with crime and provide lackluster education. Such an area won’t be able to provide the desired talent pool, and I’m skeptical that it would be able to attract the desired talent pool from neighboring areas.

    Still, despite its flaws I am quick to recommend Leaders Eat Last. Sinek does an admirable job of tackling a huge and complicated issue that our society now must face. The numerous entertaining stories help to ground and demonstrate the multitude of ideas and concepts. He did his homework, providing a deep pool of rich research to reinforce his claims. Leaders Eat Last taught me as many things as it gave me to think long and hard about, and I think that’s how you’ll come away from it when you’re done reading.
    Last edited by Smith; August 7th, 2018 at 08:52 AM.
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  2. #2
    A good detailed review, I did not see any nits.

    On a side note from someone who has taught leadership, I always narrowed it down to a simple sentence. Leaders take care of people, the more people you take care of and are responsible for, the better leader you are.

    There is formal leadership and informal leadership, they vary only by title. Anyone can be an informal leader, it is the guy who asks how you are doing, what you did last weekend and how is your project going and waits for an answer, not a single word explanation. You can see that in any group it is the person who thinks of the others first and does not mention themselves. The title of the books says much and is something I will remember...Thanks for your review and suggestion.
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  3. #3
    In the Marines, the field chow lines were formed with the Privates in front, and senior NCO's in the rear.
    When we were still paid in cash, the pay lines were formed the same.
    If food or money ran out, it was important that the people that actually DO the work be taken care of first. Really a no-brainer. But the concept is lost on many.

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  4. #4
    Actually this material sounds very much like what I learned in Gallagher-Westfall training.
    We were taught that manager was a bad word.
    managers maintain the status quo.
    They are functionaries that do nothing new or innovative.

    Leaders take the team in new directions, constantly evolving with the times.
    leaders inspire.
    managers denigrate.

    The review is good.

  5. #5
    The Fox Smith's Avatar
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    Sorry I didn't get around to replying until now.

    Quote Originally Posted by Plasticweld View Post
    A good detailed review, I did not see any nits.

    On a side note from someone who has taught leadership, I always narrowed it down to a simple sentence. Leaders take care of people, the more people you take care of and are responsible for, the better leader you are.

    There is formal leadership and informal leadership, they vary only by title. Anyone can be an informal leader, it is the guy who asks how you are doing, what you did last weekend and how is your project going and waits for an answer, not a single word explanation. You can see that in any group it is the person who thinks of the others first and does not mention themselves. The title of the books says much and is something I will remember...Thanks for your review and suggestion.
    I completely agree! And yeah, taking care of others and being responsible for them is a fundamental part of being a good leader; if not being leadership in a nutshell.

    Thanks for reading!

    Quote Originally Posted by Winston View Post
    In the Marines, the field chow lines were formed with the Privates in front, and senior NCO's in the rear.
    When we were still paid in cash, the pay lines were formed the same.
    If food or money ran out, it was important that the people that actually DO the work be taken care of first. Really a no-brainer. But the concept is lost on many.
    I didn't know it was the same for the pay lines, that's interesting. And yeah, it's one of those things that seems like common sense yet is rarely done.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ralph Rotten View Post
    Actually this material sounds very much like what I learned in Gallagher-Westfall training.
    We were taught that manager was a bad word.
    managers maintain the status quo.
    They are functionaries that do nothing new or innovative.

    Leaders take the team in new directions, constantly evolving with the times.
    leaders inspire.
    managers denigrate.

    The review is good.
    Wow, you don't often hear people being taught that about managers, haha. A good thing though. It seems to me that a leader can be a manager when necessary (there are times where the status quo must be maintained, supplies and resources managed, etc.), but somebody who is just a manager cannot be a leader.

    One thing I wish I would've done is separate the review with sub-headings. Would've really helped organize things for myself, and made it easier to read. Something for future reference now.
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  6. #6
    interesting read with a fair amount of other peoples thoughts compressed into a pov.....expressions like top of the head..seems that..leave the piece open to doubt for me..not in the content but the writers conclusions....i would recommend watching the architect norman foster answer questions about his work and the way he uses other pov's compared to his self assured reasoning...excellent read...

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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by escorial View Post
    interesting read with a fair amount of other peoples thoughts compressed into a pov.....expressions like top of the head..seems that..leave the piece open to doubt for me..not in the content but the writers conclusions....i would recommend watching the architect norman foster answer questions about his work and the way he uses other pov's compared to his self assured reasoning...excellent read...

    Thanks Esc. It was intentional, leaving the piece with more questions than answers.
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