In his book “Leaders Eat Last,” Simon Sinek argues that great leaders create an environment where their followers feel safe enough to open up and give their all on the job. To show how our need for social interaction influences our behavior at work, he goes into the science of the human brain. The book gets its name from the basic yet profound idea that effective leaders, like effective parents, prioritize the welfare of their followers over their own.
Book Title— Leaders Eat Last
Author— Simon Sinek
Date of Reading— March 2023
Table of Contents
What Is Being Said in Detail
For an organization to thrive over the long term, leadership excellence is more important than managerial savvy, as Simon Sinek argues in his book, Leaders Eat Last. Sinek argues that the next generation of leaders should put an emphasis on building strong relationships with their followers rather than on maximizing personal gain. He cites the United States Marine Corps as an organization that thrives on teamwork, trust, and shared values. Sinek hopes to make the world a better place by fostering the growth of formidable leaders who appreciate the value of putting others first.
PART 1. Our Need to Feel Safe
Unlike many advanced countries, the United States has limited provisions from state to state for paid leave when workers experience significant family developments, such as the birth or adoption of a child. When employers do not provide additional paid leave for these events, parents may feel compelled to return to work as soon as possible, leaving the new child with the other parent or in childcare. Allowing employees to spend more time with their families when they are experiencing family development relieves stress, helps them feel more secure about their job, and promotes a more balanced life. Selfless actions and interpersonal relationships assist a leader in having stress-free employees.
True human leadership shields an organization from internal rivalries that can be detrimental to the culture. When employees work together, it strengthens the organization as a whole because trust and cooperation are essential for internal growth.
Being a leader is similar to being a parent, and the company is similar to a new family that will look after its members in sickness and in health. If the company is successful, employees will adopt the company’s name as a symbol of their devotion to the company family.
When an organization’s leaders listen to their employees, it fosters a culture of cooperation and pride in which employees collaborate to advance the company. It is critical to view money as subordinate to people rather than the other way around when developing a culture in which people naturally pull together to advance the business. Employees feel valued and eager to come to work for each other, and the sense of obligation is replaced by a sense of pride. Work is no longer feared, but rather welcomed.
Intimidation, humiliation, isolation, feeling dumb, useless, and rejection are all stressors that should be avoided by leaders. This can be accomplished by creating a strong culture based on human values and beliefs, providing decision-making power, trust, empathy, and establishing a Circle of Safety within the organization. Weak leaders are those who only extend the Circle of Safety benefits to their fellow senior executives and a select few others. Strong leaders, on the other hand, extend the Circle of Safety to include everyone who works for the organization.
Workplace stress and anxiety are primarily caused by poor management and leadership, rather than by the work itself. Stress levels decrease when employees believe their well-being is valued and cared for. Employees’ stress and anxiety levels rise when they believe their leaders only care about their own interests or prioritize the company’s numbers over their employees. Employees may feel no loyalty to the company and may be willing to change jobs if they lack a sense of belonging or a reason to stay beyond money and benefits.
PART 2. Powerful Forces
Our biology and the need to collaborate are both critical to our survival. When we face danger together, we perform best. Some leaders, however, believe that creating an internal sense of urgency or pressure is the best way to motivate employees during external challenges. This is not true, according to our biology and anthropology.
Humans have a biological mechanism that makes them feel more secure in a group setting. Powerful community members were rewarded for making decisions, and they made certain that others in the community got what they needed. Human achievement and cooperation are fueled by hormones. Endorphins make people feel good about their accomplishments, and dopamine makes them more pain resistant. When people interact positively, serotonin makes them feel good about receiving respect, and oxytocin produces feelings of love. Cooperation and looking out for others can cause serotonin and oxytocin to be released, resulting in feelings of security, fulfillment, belonging, trust, and camaraderie. This can help us become better leaders, followers, friends, partners, and believers, as well as create a Circle of Safety in which stress decreases, fulfillment increases, and trust grows. When these social incentives are reduced, we become more selfish and aggressive, leadership falters, cooperation declines, and stress, paranoia, and mistrust rise. This can start a vicious cycle in which the less we look out for our coworkers, the less they look out for us, and everyone eventually loses.
People who have a strong family and friend network will always be in a good mood, whereas those who engage in nonsocial video games or take smoking breaks will have selfish hormones. These hormones make them feel unmotivated to do things, resulting in a loss of potential improvement.
When people are concerned about their personal survival or security at work, they produce an excess of the hormone cortisol, which has long-term health consequences that can shorten their lives. Employees who are stressed do not cooperate because they are too focused on their personal interests. Employees who are not concerned about losing their jobs are more likely to cooperate. Some employers seek alternative methods of reducing employee stress, which are not always related to improving corporate culture.
One trend is the increased establishment of meditation programs, which are intended to reduce employee stress, improve goal focus, and inspire creativity. However, if employees do not feel safe in their workplaces and are constantly concerned about their job security, stress reduction from meditation or yoga programs will only be a short-term solution to a long-term problem that will continue to undermine productivity and teamwork.
Building strong relationships and putting people’s well-being ahead of numbers can lead to increased trust and the release of oxytocin, which can offset the negative effects of stress and cortisol. As a result, reducing stress and achieving work-life balance is dependent not only on the nature of the job or the number of hours worked, but also on the release of oxytocin and serotonin.
PART 3. Reality
The rules are intended to keep things safe and running smoothly. We trust people not only to follow the rules, but also to know when to break them. Leaders must teach their followers the rules, train them to become competent, and instill confidence in them. A leader must be honest with everyone in order to gain the trust of his or her employees.
Our primitive limbic brain controls our emotions, ability to trust, cooperate, socialize, and build communities, while the neocortex helps us accomplish tasks. It is in charge of our gut reactions and decisions, as well as forming strong emotional bonds with others. Trust and commitment are feelings that we experience as a result of chemical incentives released deep within our limbic brain.
PART 4. How We Got Here
Starting in the 1980s, layoffs became more popular as a business strategy to compensate for losses, despite the fact that they immediately made employees more concerned about their job security. Employees who are overly concerned about their job prospects may act selfishly or sabotage each other to protect themselves. Despite the fact that over 1.6 million people were laid off in July 2016, analysts noted in September 2016 that the number of people laid off had dropped significantly to its lowest level in three years. Today, companies announce layoffs in every quarter and across every industry, and the rate at which they do so is an economic indicator alongside hiring and unemployment.
When an organization cuts people, it benefits them in the short term, but it can harm their reputation in the eyes of consumers in the long run, and the ramifications for society are negative in the long run, so the rate of layoffs can both indicate the current state of the economy and predict some factors in the future as laid-off employees seek jobs and receive unemployment benefits. This new leadership priority shakes the very foundation of trust and cooperation.
Current work environments undermine our natural tendency to trust and cooperate, instead promoting individual achievement through a dopamine-driven performance system. This imbalance leads to stock market crashes and organizational instabilities. The failure to change this system creates a vicious cycle that endangers our health, economy, and corporate stability. Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, and Lehman Brothers are examples of companies that failed as a result of this imbalance.
Our chemical incentive system was created to assist us in managing and thriving in a physical world where we lived in small groups with limited resources and high risks. However, in today’s abundant world, our system can become short-circuited and damaged. Abundance can be harmful because it abstracts the value of things and diminishes the value we place on them, including our relationships.
PART 5. The Abstract Challenge
Because they manage their businesses on screens and spreadsheets, leaders of large corporations frequently make decisions without considering the impact on human lives. According to Milgram’s experiment, a sense of higher authority, such as a compelling purpose or moral code, is required to mitigate the negative effects of abstraction on decision-making. When leaders prioritize people over numbers, it inspires employees to follow and work toward a common vision in a stable, ethical manner. Numbers can lose their human connection and become meaningless. We are better able to pursue things we can see as visual animals, such as a person in need or a clear vision of a better future. However, when numbers are the only focus, we lose sight of the impact of our decisions on people and the future.
Rule 1: Keep it real, Bring people together.
Online communities allow shy people to express themselves, but they also allow some people to behave in ways they would not in real life. Because of the anonymity and distance of online interactions, people can engage in inhumane behavior, including saying horrible things to one another. Unlike real friendships built on love and trust, positive feelings from online interactions fade quickly and rarely stand the test of time. Real, live human interaction is how we feel a part of something, build trust, and develop empathy for others. It is the means by which we innovate.
Rule 2: Keep it manageable and stick to Dunbar’s number.
The number of close relationships we are naturally designed to manage makes 150 people the optimal size for a human group. This is due to time constraints and limited brain capacity, as we cannot form deep bonds of trust with or remember everyone. When groups exceed 150 people, social systems break down, and people are less likely to work hard and help one another. Regardless of the emphasis on cost savings, the strength of human relationships is critical for an organization to manage at scale.
Rule 3: Get to know the people you’re assisting.
Seeing the positive impact of our efforts motivates us to work harder and accomplish more. According to one study, a group of workers who received a visit from a scholarship recipient they assisted increased their sales and phone time when compared to a control group that did not receive a visit or a third group that simply heard from their manager about the impact of their work. Seeing the impact firsthand is more powerful than being told about the importance of our work by our bosses.
Rule 4: Give them time as well as money.
Money is a promissory note for future goods or services that represents tangible resources or human effort. It has no “real” value to our primitive brains, which prioritize safety and protection over wealth. As a result, someone who gives us a large sum of money may not be as valuable to us as someone who is willing to devote their time and energy to us.
Rule number five: Be patient.
The world we live in is ruled by impatience and instant gratification, with technology allowing us to get what we want right away. However, developing trusting bonds that can withstand challenges takes time, and there is no quick fix. While it is unknown how long it takes to trust someone, it is clear that patience is required, which cannot be rushed by any app or technology.
PART 6. Destructive Abundance
Leadership Lesson 1: As the culture evolves, so does the company.
Strong corporate cultures foster employee personal identification and attachment to the company. When cultural standards shift toward performance metrics, trust and cooperation suffer, resulting in weaker cultures in which individual self-interest trumps ethical behavior.
Citigroup’s culture, for example, was problematic, as there was an air of suspicion and mistrust among employees, most likely due to a weak Circle of Safety. This was evident when the author’s boss purposefully left out a critical part of a deal-making process to ensure she failed in order to protect his own position. This behavior is indicative of a cortisol-rich, unsafe culture in which individuals prioritize their own survival over the good of the organization. Everyone was afraid of being outdone by their colleagues, which created an unsafe environment. The culture was not the result of necessary budget cuts, but rather of a systemic problem.
Leadership Lesson 2: The culture follows the leader.
Leaders who are open about their mistakes and knowledge gaps foster a safe environment in which employees are more likely to share their own mistakes and problems. People in unsafe organizations hide their mistakes for self-preservation, which can lead to bigger problems later on.
Leadership Lesson 3: Integrity is important
When leaders are suspected of twisting the truth to benefit their own interests or avoid accountability, our trust in them wanes because our subconscious mind prefers not to trust them. Integrity, honesty, and accountability are all components of trust in leadership. We are hardwired to constantly evaluate other people’s information and actions in order to determine trust. Trust is earned over time through consistent actions and intentions, not just one interaction or statement. Integrity is a practice in which our words and deeds are consistent with our intentions. Lack of integrity is, at best, hypocrisy and, at worst, deception. A common sign of a lack of integrity in the business world is when leaders say what others want to hear rather than the truth.
Leadership Lesson 4: Friendship is important.
To truly lead, all leaders must walk the halls and spend time with the people they serve. When we are disconnected from the people with whom we work, we spend more time focusing on our own needs rather than the needs of those for whom we are responsible. Cooperation does not imply agreement; rather, it means working together for the greater good, to benefit those who rely on our protection.
Leadership Lesson 5: Lead by example, not numbers.
Leaders who are humble enough to distribute power across the organization can strengthen the company and make it less reliant on one person, allowing it to survive even after the leader has left. This model has been shown to lead to higher team performance over time by focusing on managing the Circle of Safety and empowering employees. According to Dr. Natalia Lorinkova’s research, teams led by an empowering leader outperform those led by a directive leader. Finally, developing a strong and safe team culture is critical for a company’s long-term success. Customers will never love a company unless the employees first love it.
PART 7. A Society of Addicts
The link between the spread of puerperal fever and modern business culture is concerning. In the modern era, our scientists are now businessmen who make decisions based on metrics, efficiency, Lean, Six Sigma, returns on investment, and empirical data. This, however, frequently leads to an increased reliance on managers and a failure to see the people doing the work. We rely more on numbers to keep track of things as they become more abstract and larger in scale.
Binge eating, gambling, drinking, and smoking are all classified as dopamine addictions because they provide us with the dopamine we seek. When we are unable to control our desire for these dopamine bursts, they become addictions that can be harmful to us. Similarly, corporate incentive programs can foster a dopamine-fueled addiction to performance, which can be detrimental. Essentially, we become addicted to workplace performance.
Companies’ incentive structures tend to prioritize individual performance over cooperation, information sharing, and helping others. Dopamine addiction and selfish behavior can result from a lack of positive reinforcement for behaviors critical to maintaining a safe and productive work environment. This addiction can cloud judgment, reduce concern for outsiders, and make individuals obsessed with their next dopamine hit, potentially causing harm to the company as a whole.
Self-interest is associated with Baby Boomers and the post-World War II generation. They are known to place a high value on serving others, whereas generations X and Y prefer to deal with abstractions and are self-centered. Workplaces have become increasingly diverse in recent years, particularly in the 2010s. Traditionalists (people born before 1946) have worked until they are 70 years old, which is longer than any other generation. Until 2015, the majority of workers were Baby Boomers, but prior to that, the majority of workers were people born between 1977 and 1997. These people were dubbed Millennials. This age diversity can cause workplace tension when members of certain generations feel underappreciated by members of other generations.
Generations X and Y were taught that they could have whatever they wanted, but they misapplied this lesson. Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, Generation X put their heads down and worked hard. In contrast, Generation Y is frequently perceived as entitled, but this is due to impatience caused by a misguided belief that success comes quickly and a reliance on technology to manage relationships. They grew up in a world where money trumps service and numbers take precedence over people. This disruption of their internal reward systems may make them the most vulnerable to their parents’ excess, but none of us are immune. If Boomers get their dopamine from goals that are focused on “more” and “bigger,” Gen Y gets their dopamine from anything that is focused on “faster” or “now.”
Discourage employees from generalizing about each other’s generations is one strategy for reducing the tension caused by age diversity. Even Traditionalists with their tendency toward selfless interests and Baby Boomers with more self-interest can cooperate in a healthy Circle of Safety with leaders who look out for them when they are encouraged to work together and learn from each other.
PART 8. Becoming A Leader
Many organizational cultures are addicted to numbers and performance, which can have negative consequences for health and relationships. Furthermore, individuals may prioritize celebrity or wealth over fulfilling the anthropological need for alpha status. Recognizing this addiction, however, is only the first step; it is necessary to collaborate in order to change the systems that create this addiction and build new ones that encourage collaboration. This cannot be accomplished alone.
Companies addicted to dopamine will be unable to self-regulate, and individuals attempting to overcome addiction on their own will usually fail. A sponsor or mentor who provides support and reinforces caring relationships is frequently required for success. Oxytocin, which promotes trust and love, is essential in helping alcoholics and heroin addicts overcome addiction and withdrawal symptoms. Evidence suggests that a healthy release of oxytocin through acts of service, sacrifice, and selflessness may help to keep a toxic corporate culture at bay.
Commoditization occurs when a resource becomes so common that its perceived value diminishes, as with computers. Value can be destroyed by abundance, and we appreciate things more when we have to work hard for them or when they are difficult to obtain. The struggle required to achieve something, whether it is a diamond, professional success, or a relationship, contributes to its value. Our bodies release oxytocin to encourage us to help one another in times of need. In other words, when we share adversity, we biologically become closer.
If our species thrives when we are forced to work together to overcome adversity, then we must redefine adversity for our modern age of abundance. Leaders of successful organizations should reframe their struggles in relation to their success in order to innovate or command loyalty and love from their people. Survival is a very real concern for small businesses with limited resources, whereas larger, more successful businesses are driven by growth. Growth, on the other hand, does not enlighten the human spirit. Leaders must provide a reason for people to come to work and a vision of a world that does not yet exist in order to inspire them. They should frame problems in such a way that no one knows how to solve them. This is exactly what great leaders do.
Most Important Keywords, Sentences, Quotes
PART 1. Our Need to Feel Safe
“Without coercion, pressure or force, the people naturally work together to help each other and advance the company.”
“When the people have to manage dangers from inside the organization, the organization itself becomes less able to face the dangers from outside.”
“It is not the genius at the top giving directions that makes people great. It is great people that make the guy at the top look like a genius.”
PART 2. Powerful Forces
“Working exclusively to advance ourselves may hurt the group, while working exclusively to advance the group may come at a cost to us as individuals.”
“When the system works as designed, we stay well fed, get our work done and make progress.”
“We’re just not strong enough to survive alone, let alone thrive. Whether we like to admit it or not, we need each other.”
“There are few feelings that human beings crave more than a sense of belonging . . . the feeling of being inside a Circle of Safety.”
PART 3. Reality
“For trust to serve the individuals and the group, it must be shared.”
“Trust is like lubrication. It reduces friction and creates conditions much more conducive to performance.”
PART 4. How We Got Here
“If anything, prioritizing performance over people undermines the free market economy.”
“The problem is, for us to be led, there must be leaders we want to follow.”
“Abundance can be destructive because it abstracts the value of things.”
“The more distance there is between or the more things we do that amplify the abstraction, the harder it becomes to see each other as human.”
PART 5. The Abstract Challenge
“The more abstract people become, the more capable we are of doing them harm.”
“It’s one thing for big numbers to represent money or products. But when big numbers start representing human beings, as Stalin told us, our ability to empathize starts to falter.”
“Trust is not formed through a screen, it is formed across a table.”
PART 6. Destructive Abundance
“In a weak culture, we veer away from doing “the right thing” in favor of doing “the thing that’s right for me”.”
“The more attention a leader focuses on their own wealth or power, they stop acting like a leader and start taking on more of the attributes of a tyrant.”
“To be a true leader, to engender deep trust and loyalty, starts with telling the truth.”
“Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”
PART 7. A Society of Addicts
“Leadership is about taking responsibility for lives and not numbers.”
“In healthy organizations, as in a healthy society, the drive to win should not precede the desire to take care of the very people we claim to serve.”
PART 8. Becoming A Leader
“A Circle of Safety is kept strong by those who live and work within it.”
“It is not the work we remember with fondness, but the camaraderie, how the group came together to get things done.”
“To really inspire us, we need a challenge that outsizes the resources available.”
“Human beings have thrived for fifty thousand years not because we are driven to serve ourselves, but because we are inspired to serve others.”
Book Review (Personal Opinion):
When I first began reading this book, I assumed it would be all about business and how to become a better manager. I was taken aback when I finished the book and realized it wasn’t just about leadership skills. At several pivotal junctures, I had to pause and reflect on the organizations I’ve worked for in the past and how Sinek’s insights seemed to apply to my own work experience. The book “Leaders Eat Last” enabled me to reflect on the organizations (and the leaders) I’ve worked for in the past and to see what they did right, what they did wrong, and how those decisions affected the company’s culture.
When compared to other works on management, “Leaders Eat Last” is far more accessible to the general readership. The book had a great beginning, but I was hoping it would have a similarly satisfying conclusion.
For a future leader, this was quite motivating. He paints a picture of the utopian society that so many people dream of. It’s not a manual for becoming an effective leader, but it’s a solid primer for anyone in a position of authority who hopes to foster a culture of trust and cooperation among their staff.
This Book Is For:
- People who is looking to improve on their leadership qualities
- People who want to improve their organizations
- People who want to rank up in their given profession
If You Want to Learn More
Here is an interview with author Simon Sinek on what it really means to be a leader:
You are only competing against yourself.
How I’ve Implemented The Ideas From The Book
The most important lessons are those that you need to repeat to yourself. And “Leaders Eat Last” reminded me to treat all of the people I work with with empathy, respect, and to give them support.
If I prioritize the well-being of those around me and put them on #1, everything else will fall in line.
One Small Actionable Step You Can Do
To start applying the ideas in “Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek, one small step you can take is to actively listen to your employees. Create a safe and supportive environment where your employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, ideas, and concerns without fear of retribution.
Schedule regular one-on-one meetings with each employee to check in on how they’re doing and ask for feedback on their work and the overall work environment. Encourage open and honest communication, practice empathy, and take action on the feedback you receive by implementing changes or improvements that address your employees’ concerns.
By actively listening to your employees, you demonstrate that you value their input and care about their well-being. This small step can go a long way in creating a positive and supportive work culture, which is a key concept in “Leaders Eat Last.”