Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t
I know of no case study in history that describes an organization that has been managed out of a crisis. Every single one of them was led. Yet a good number of our educational institutions and training programs today are focused not on developing great leaders but on training effective managers. Short-term gains are viewed as the mark of success and long-term organizational growth and viability are simply the bill payers. Leaders Eat Last is an effort to change this paradigm.
In Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek does not propose any new leadership theory or core principle. He has a much higher purpose to his writing. Simon would like to make the world a better place for all of us. His vision is simple: to create a new generation of men and women who understand that an organization’s success or failure is based on leadership excellence and not managerial acumen.
It is not an accident that Simon uses the U.S. military, and in particular the United States Marine Corps, to explain the importance of leaders being focused on their people. These organizations have strong cultures and shared values, understand the importance of teamwork, create trust among their members, maintain focus, and, most important, understand the importance of people and relationships to their mission success. These organizations are also in a position where the cost of failure can be catastrophic. Mission failure is not an option. Without a doubt, people enable the success of all our military services.
When you are with Marines gathering to eat, you will notice that the most junior are served first and the most senior are served last. When you witness this act, you will also note that no order is given. Marines just do it. At the heart of this very simple action is the Marine Corps’ approach to leadership. Marine leaders are expected to eat last because the true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own. Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest.
In his previous book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon explained that for an organization to be successful its leaders need to understand the true purpose of their organization—the Why. In Leaders Eat Last, Simon takes us to the next level of understanding why some organizations do better than others. He does this by detailing all elements of the leadership challenge. Simply stated, it is not enough to know “the Why” of your organization; you must know your people and realize that they are much more than an expendable resource. In short, professional competence is not enough to be a good leader; good leaders must truly care about those entrusted to their care.
Good management is clearly not enough to sustain any organization over the long term. Simon’s in-depth explanation of the elements of human behavior clearly demonstrates that there are real reasons why some organizations may do well over a short period of time but eventually fail: The leadership has failed to create an environment where people really do matter. As Simon points out, organizations where people share values and are valued succeed over the long term in both good and bad times.
John Quincy Adams would have understood Simon’s message because he clearly understood what it was to be a leader when he stated: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” In this quote, I think you will find the message of Leaders Eat Last. When leaders inspire those they lead, people dream of a better future, invest time and effort in learning more, do more for their organizations and along the way become leaders themselves. A leader who takes care of their people and stays focused on the well-being of the organization can never fail. My hope is that after reading this book readers will be inspired to always eat last.
GEORGE J. FLYNN,
Lieutenant General, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)
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