Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

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Those who have opportunity to work in organizations that treat them like human beings to be protected rather than a resource to be exploited come home at the end of the day with an intense feeling of fulfillment and gratitude. This should be the rule for all of us, not the exception. 1

Have you ever worked in an organization that makes you feel safe? One where you can express your opinions, and fail, and you'll still have a job and no one will by trying to climb over you in a quest to climb higher up the corporate ladder? Unfortunately, some of you are going to say no which means that Leaders Eat Last, by Simon Sinek, may be the perfect book for you to read. The goal of Sinek in this book is to help us build a human organization2 that can excel because people work together3 inside their Circle of Safety4.

What is the Circle of Safety?

Let's start be defining what it's not.

A Circle of Safety is not creating an environment of competition and scarcity5, that only means people will be fighting for those limited resources and building fiefdoms. Everyone fights for the limited amount of recognition there is and doesn't offer to help anyone else. That looks like the sales team pushing through lots of free users and hitting their numbers. Unfortunately the retention team gets stuck with people that were never going to be customers, and their numbers are terrible.

Having no Circle of Safety means we have employees only looking out for themselves, which means that's what everyone around them does and we have a vicious cycle6 pulling the company into something terrible. It means constant low-grade stress because we are on our own with no support78

That's simply not good for business.

A Circle of Safety is a place where your employees can look out for each other. They know that if they have problems and fail at something, they can present it and they won't be in trouble, they'll be supported. They know that their bosses are looking out for them like a parent looks out for a small child, working to ensure that they succeed9.

What it Looks like when Employees are Safe

What too many leaders of organizations fail to appreciate is that it’s not the people that are the problem. The people are fine. Rather, it’s the environment in which the people operate that is the problem. Get that right and things juts go. 10

When you have a safe work environment we have one where people aren't disposable for the sake of numbers11. We have an organization where leaders have empathy for employees and trust them to do their job12. You have an organization where people can focus on the problems outside the company, because inside the company it's safe13. You have an organization where people do good stuff for each other without benefit to themselves directly14.

Instead of focusing on numbers, leaders put faces to the numbers and treat people like people, not something to be balanced on a spreadsheet1516. Instead of watching employees all the time, you give them autonomy to do their work17 and trust them to know when to break the rules18.

The result of having these things in place is:

Without coercion, pressure or force, the people naturally work together to help each other and advance the company. 19

How to Build a Circle of Safety

Everything about being a leader is like being a parent. It is about comitting 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. 20

Building up your Circle of Safety at work starts by not treating people as numbers on a balance sheet and putting faces to those people21. Sinek also uses Dunbar's Number here22 as a way of referring to the optimal size of teams23. See with 150 people in an organization, you can know each person and feel invested in their success in the group. When your department gets bigger than that, it won't happen.

Having a safe team also means that your leaders are sacrificing for the team24 and that your CEO's aren't forcing pay for performance while they negotiate huge payouts no matter what happens in the company25. It means that leaders are willing to share the gaps in their knowledge and their mistakes26 because doing that means the team will feel safe sharing struggles.

It means transferring responsibility down the chain of command27 and giving people trust when the rules need to be broken.

A safe company means that incentive structures align themselves with helping people out28 instead of protecting your territory.

I'm sure that feels like a hard thing to get to but remember that success requires action in one direction consistently over time29. It's not a single seminar and you're done thing, it's continuing to push towards the goal.

While there are a few other threads to pull on in the book, I'll leave it at one two final quotes and then move on to the recommendation.

Levels of depression and anxiety among people who are unhappy at work were the same or greater than those who were unemployed. 30

Children are better off having a parent who works into the night in a job they love than a parent who work shorter hours but comes home unhappy. 31

Should You Read Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek?

It is not when things come easily that we appreciate them, but when we have to work hard for them or when they are hard to get that those things have greater value to us. 32

If you're looking to understand your organization and many of the motivations inside it, then this can be a great book. I say can because, if you're in a terrible organization you may just be more frustrated. Sinek offers a bit of advice on how to deal with a bad organization, but not much. In fact the best move is likely to start looking for a good organization to be in.

If you're running an organization, or a part of one, then Leaders Eat Last is a good book to have in your toolkit so that you can lead in a way that motivates employees.

Purchase Leaders Eat Last on Amazon Purchase Leaders Eat Last on Book Depository


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  8. See also Lab Rats for more on dehumanization and low-grade stress in the office. 

  9. Also see my old post on a managers job is to help people succeed

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  23. We also talked about this in Connected and Tipping Point

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