Leaders Eat Last, a sort of Book Review

SimonSinekI first heard Simon Sinek speak at HowDesign Live 2015 in Chicago. His talk on inspiring leadership was the biggest takeaway from the entire conference. It was incredibly powerful, and well, inspiring, so I had to buy his book, Leaders Eat Last .

I have to recommend this book. It’s impossible not to talk about it after reading it. It’s also impossible for me to write in a single blog post on all of the ideas Sinek put forth.

But if you wanna see me try… read below, but first the main point of this blog: If you want to learn about the history and culture of corporate America, leadership, and more importantly, good leadership that inspires, buy the book. Plain and simple.

What is a Leader?

Leaders are the ones who run headfirst into the unknown.

They rush toward the danger.

They put their own interests aside to protect us or to pull us into the future.

Leaders would sooner sacrifice what is theirs to save what is ours.

And they would never sacrifice what is ours to save what is theirs.

This is what it means to be a leader.

It means they choose to go first into danger, headfirst toward the unknown.

And when we feel sure they will keep us safe,

we will march behind them and work tirelessly to see their visions come to life and proudly call ourselves their followers.

Human Leadership

We need to feel safe within a corporation, a group, a church, etc. When we find safety in our environment, we are loyal, innovative, and risk takers. Instead of internal struggles that wastes energy, we progress toward a shared vision and the external threats can be fought together. The most successful companies are people working together for a common purpose who feel safe and secure.

Don’t Forget The Science!

Sinek focuses much on the science because ultimately it comes down to biology. So why we follow the leaders we do, how we work together, etc., is explained by the chemicals that guide our emotions and motivations.

  • endorphins & dopamine – the selfish chemicals; to persevere, find food, build shelters, drive forward and get things done.
  • serotonin & oxytocin – the selfless chemicals; strengthen our social bonds to work together and to cooperate, so that we can ultimately survive and ensure our progeny will live beyond us.

A History of Corporate America

Basically, blame everything on the Baby Boomers.

But seriously, the Greatest Generation (Great Depression and WWII folks) work ethic was defined by:

The importance of hard work, the necessity of cooperation and the value of loyalty – everything they knew about getting things done – defined how companies operated when this generation ran them.

Then they had babies and the population grew 40%.

As our wealth and attitude changed, we started to transform from a country that would fight to protect a way of life into a country that would fight to protect the way we prefer to live.

Then came the Roaring Eighties once the Boomers grew up. Disposability was now an industry to be pioneered and people became disposable too. In 1981, PATCO had the first lay offs that protected commerce over people, setting a precedent that is now common today.

The Dehumanization of Business

People are now numbers. They are means to an end. No longer does a company protect their people — they protect their monetary assets.

We no longer see each other as people; we are now customers, shareholders, employees, avatars, online profiles, screen names, e-mail addresses and expenses to be tracked. The human being really has gone virtual. Now more than ever, we are trying to work and live, be productive and happy, in a world in which we are strangers to those around us.

Work Culture

Having a strong work culture is incredibly important. It can make or break your company. If you have a strong work culture…

… the people inside the company will feel protected by their leaders and feel that their colleagues have their backs. In a culture of weak character, the people will feel that any protection they have comes primarily from their own ability to manage the politics, promote their own successes, and watch their own backs.

A weak work culture inevitably stalls innovation and production.

So, how do we have a strong work culture? We need a good leader.


Authority should be given to those closest to the information. We usually have the paradigm of the authority is top down, though the information is usually at the bottom. The leaders should be giving the vision and the followers who have the information should have the authority.

With authority comes responsibility and shared interest. The organization is strengthened and the leader is empowered.

… the leaders devote all their energy to training, building, and protecting their people – to managing the Circle of Safety – so that the people can command and control any situation themselves.

The Case of Costco

James Sinegal, co-founder of Costco, is a great example of a successful leader. He had a people-first attitude which allowed trust and cooperation to develop.

Good leadership is like exercise. We do not see any improvement to our bodies with day-to-day comparisons.

Costco is the second largest retailer in the country, the seventh largest in the world though they didn’t start out that way.  The CEO was charged as being “too benevolent” which unfortunately is supposed to be an insult in the corporate world. When the recession happened, instead of laying off people which most companies did, he approved a $1.50-an-hour-wage increase, spread out over three years, because why? “We should be figuring out how to give them more, not less,” said CFO Richard Galanti.

History of FCC

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal created the Radio Act of 1927, later Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This new act and new commission took responsibility for the new medium of television and, as with radio, did the work of helping the broadcast industry to grow while also protecting the public’s access to information.

They didn’t make a lot of money, but they had integrity.

Than 1979 happened and the America Held Hostage: The Iran Crisis premiered and news changed forever. President Reagan’s administration appointed FCC chairman Mark Fowler who changed many things ultimately allowing for the news to be about profit. Koppel says that news organizations went from delivering the news you need, even if you don’t want it, to the news you want even if you don’t need it. Instead of making the news interesting, they made interesting news.

Gen Y

They say Gen Y is said to have a sense of entitlement, but Sinek argues this belief. Instead he says,

This generation wants to work hard and is willing to work hard. What we perceive as entitlement is, in fact, impatience. An impatience driven by two things: First is a gross misunderstanding that things like success, money or happiness, comes instantly. Even though our message and books arrive the same day we want them, our careers and fulfillment do not.

The second element is more unsettling. It is a result of a horrible short circuit to their internal reward systems. These Gen Yers have grown up in a world in which huge scale is normal, money is valued over service and technology is used to manage relationships. The economic systems in which they have grown up, ones that prioritize numbers over people, are blindly accepted, as if that’s the way it has always been.

The Myth of Multi-tasking

We are not good at multitasking, but rather we are better at being distracted.

We have an addiction problem. It’s a new disease that makes our youngest generation impatient at best, and worst, feel lonelier and more isolated than the generations before.

They are happy to give lots of short bursts of energy and effort to things, but commitment and grit come harder. Giving lots of one’s self to a small number of things seems to have been replaced by giving a little bit of one’s self to a large number of things.

Instead of relying on our biological bonds of friendship and loving relationships, we go to the internet, Facebook, prescription drugs, etc. Senik predicts a growth in depression, prescription drug abuse, suicide, and other anti-social behaviors.


A good leader inspires us to serve others. We need leaders to give us a good reason to commit ourselves to each other.

Leadership is not a license to do less; it is a responsibility to do more. And that’s the trouble. Leadership takes work. It takes time and energy. The effects are not always easily measured and they are not always immediate. Leadership is always a commitment to human beings.

Everything about being a leader is like being a parent. It is about committing to the well-being of those in our care and having a willingness to make sacrifices to see their interests advanced so that they may carry our banner long after we are gone.


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