Leaders Eat Last: A book review by Bob Morris

Leaders Eat LastLeaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t
Simon Sinek
Portfolio/The Penguin Group (2014)

Why our society now has a chemical imbalance and what we must do about it

I agree with Simon Sinek: “Too many of the environments in which we work today frustrate our natural inclinations to trust and cooperate.” He notes that since the Boomers took over the running business and government, the U.S. (and much of the world) has experienced three significant stock market crashes in 1987, 2000, and 2008. “A new set of values and norms has been established for our businesses and our society — a system of dopamine-driven performance that rewards us for individual achievement at the expense of the balancing effects of serotin and oxytocin that reward us for working together and building bonds of trust and loyalty. It is this imbalance that causes stock markets to crash.”

Sinek carefully explains how and why this chemical imbalance in our society has occurred and then suggests hat he thinks must be done about it. “The big Boomer generation has, by accident, created a world quite out of balance” but “we can’t simply blame an entire generation for the ills we face today.” I agree. It has taken several decades for this imbalance yo occur and it will probably take several decades to correct it. How? That’s what this book is all about.

It’s title suggests to me the type of leader Robert Greenleaf describes in an essay written in 1970: “The servant-leader is servant first…It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Sinek’s coverage.

o The Value of Empathy (Pages 7-8)
o We See What We Want to See, and, The Awesome Responsibility (12-17)
o Circle of Safety: U.S. Marines (18-25)
o It’s All About the Group, and, Our Chemical Dependency (35-37)
o Our Goals Must Be Tangible (42-45)
o Generosity and Other Ways to Build Trust (51-52)
o Eating Last Is Repaid with Loyalty and Hard Work (68-70)
o Know When to Break the Rules (72-75)
o The Boom Before the Bust (81-84)
o The Eight-Hundred-Pound Boomer in the Room (84-89)
o When Leaders Eat First, and, Dehumanization (94-96)
o Abstraction Kills (97-101)
o Bad Cultures Breed Bad Leaders, and, A Culture Protected (133-136)
o True Power (141-147)
o Enemies Fight. Friends Cooperate (162-165)

When concluding his thoughtful and thought-provoking book, Simon Sinek observes, “Leadership, true leadership, is not the bastion of those who sit at the top. It is the responsibility of anyone who belongs to the group. Though those with formal rank may have the authority to work at greater scale, each of us has a responsibility to keep the Circle of Safety strong [i.e. one that provides mutual support and, when needed, mutual protection]. We must all start today to do little things for the good of others…one day at a time. Let us all be the leaders we wish we had.”

Robert Greenleaf’s remarks quoted earlier are even more relevant now than they were 43 years ago and the same is true of my favorite passage in Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, written around 6th century BC:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

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