Come back with your shield — or on it.

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t

This week’s inspiration is this man.

Simon Sinek

Last week, I rewatched Simon Sinek’s famous Start With Why TED Talk [18:01]. Then I rewatched the incredibly powerful Understanding The Game We’re Playing [30:20]. Finally after binge watching hours of Simon Sinek’s beautiful talks, I landed on Why Leaders Eat Last [45:50].

I wanted to share Why Leaders Eat Last because it touches on the themes from last week’s Do it for the ‘Gram article.

In Why Leaders Eat Last, Simon applies evolutionary psychology to the workplace. Why some organizations are able to achieve longterm greatness, while others fall apart. It starts with the leader. I’ve provided some snippets of his talk, but I recommend watching the entire thing. Click here for full video and transcript.

Who would risk their lives so that others may survive? [@0:20]

“Now if you think about it, in the military, they give medals to people who are willing to sacrifice themselves so that others may gain. In business, we give bonuses to people who are willing to sacrifice others so that we may gain. We have it backwards. “

“Wouldn’t you like to work in an organization in which you have the absolute confidence and knowledge that other people would be willing to sacrifice themselves so that you may survive?”

“They’re not born. They’re actually made.“

We work together to feel safe against danger.[@14:30]

“Outside in the world is danger at all times, for various reasons. In caveman times, that danger may have been a saber-toothed tiger. It may have been the weather. It may have been a lack of resources. It may have been– who knows? Any number of things, things that with no conscience are trying to kill you. They want to end your life.”

“And so how do we survive? We work together. And together, we come together in our groups, in our companies, in our tribes to feel like we belong, to be around people who believe what we believe so that we may feel safe. When we’re surrounded by people who have our best interests in mind and we feel safe, we will organize ourselves and cooperate to face the dangers externally.”

Danger within in our organizations are created by our leaders. [@15:36]

“Inside our organizations, the dangers we face are not a constant. They are a variable. And they are the decisions of leadership as to how safe they make us feel when we go to work. This is the job of leaders.”

“When we stand together, we can more easily face the dangers outside. When we break up inside our companies, if our leaders don’t allow us the space to feel safe inside our own companies, to feel like we belong, we’re forced to exert our own energy to protect ourselves from each other. And by the way, expose ourselves to greater danger from the outside. If you have to worry about politics, if you have to worry about someone stealing your credit, if you have to worry about your boss not having your back, think about the energy you invest, not in your business, not in the products you’re trying to develop, not in your work, not in how great you’re producing, not in your creativity, but in just keeping yourself feeling safe. This is destructive.”

Being an Alpha comes with benefits. [@21:15]

“We had a very practical problem as our animal was developing, as the Homo Sapien was developing. We lived in communities of about 100–150 people and there’s a very practical issue which is, if we’re hungry and somebody brings back food and drops a carcass on the floor, we’re all going to rush in to eat. And if you’re lucky enough to be built like a linebacker, you will elbow your way to the front. And if you’re the artistic one of the family, you get the elbow in the face. Not a good system to keep the whole tribe alive, and definitely not a good system for cooperation. Because remember, the value of group living means that if I trust you and you trust me, I can fall asleep at night and trust that you will alert me to danger. If I don’t trust you, I can’t go to sleep at night.”

“And so we evolved into hierarchical animals. We’re constantly assessing and judging each other, constantly arranging ourselves. Who’s the alpha? Who’s the dominant? Who’s the one who sort of is the more dominant personality or dominant talent in the room?”

“What we do is when we assess that someone else is the alpha, we voluntarily take a step back and allow them to eat first. Alphas get first choice of meat and first choice of mate.

This is why we’re constantly trying to raise our status, because there are benefits to being the alpha.

The cost of being an Alpha. [@24:40]

“People will do things for us and step back and offer us favors, right? And to this day, we’re perfectly comfortable giving special treatment to our Alphas. No one has a problem that your boss makes more money than you. You might think he’s an ass, but you don’t have a problem that he makes more money. Nobody has a problem that somebody who outranks us at work has a bigger office than us. Doesn’t offend us. It is deeply ingrained in us. We happily step aside and allow our alphas first choice of meat and first choice of mate. It’s good to be the king. There are advantages that come with being the alpha. You get special treatment. You get to eat first. People show you love and respect. It boosts the serotonin. You walk around like this. It boosts your confidence. It’s awesome.“

“But it comes at a cost. You see, the group is not stupid. We’re not giving all of that stuff away for free. Leadership, alpha comes at a cost. You see, we expect that when danger threatens us from the outside, that the person who’s actually stronger, the person who’s better fed, and the person who is actually teeming with serotonin and actually has higher confidence than the rest of us, we expect them to run towards the danger to protect us.”

A generous leader inspires generosity. [@29:24]

“We put a premium on people who give us their time and energy. A leader who says to you, I’ll pay for something for you, is not a leader. A leader who comes and sits down next to you and says, how can I help you, is a leader.“

Leaders are the ones who give us their time and give us their energy. Not the ones who give us their money. It doesn’t count. It doesn’t work. Just biologically, doesn’t work. This is how you get oxytocin, doing nice things for people that require that you sacrifice a little bit of time, a little bit of energy, something you will never get back.”

“As it turns out, witnessing acts of human generosity release oxytocin. Remember, our bodies are trying to get us to repeat behaviors that are in our best interest. And it’s making us feel good when we see or do acts of human generosity so that we will do them. In fact, the more oxytocin you have in your body, the more generous you actually become. In other words, the more you do, the more you want to do. It gets better than that. Lots of oxytocin in your body inhibits addiction.”

As a leader, make the people you work with feel safe. [@37:20]

“Give your time and give your energy. And this is why leadership is really difficult, because you can’t give it to everyone, because you don’t have enough to give to everyone. You just can’t. You have to make sure that you can trust others, to trust others, to trust others, to trust others.

“And this is what happens in the circle of belonging, in the circle of safety. This is what effective bureaucracy is, which is as the CEO, as the leader, or whatever your job is, you have one responsibility and one responsibility only, which is to make sure the people you know, that you have physical contact with, you know their names, are confident and feel looked after, and encourage them to do the same for the ones who work beneath them, who work beneath them, who work beneath them.”

If leaders don’t make us feel safe, we go crazy. [@38:54]

Cortisol is the feeling of stress and the feeling of anxiety. We share these chemicals with all the social mammals. And so when you see a herd of gazelle– you’ve all seen the documentary on Discovery or whatever, right? You see a herd of gazelle grazing, and one of them thinks they hear a rustle in the grass. And they go– GASP, right? That’s what cortisol does. Cortisol is designed to keep us alive. It is the first stage of fight or flight. It makes us paranoid. It makes all of our senses hyper attuned to look for danger. It injects glucose into our muscles to make us stiff and ready to go in case we need to fight or flight. It increases our heart rate like crazy, right? And it makes us start looking. It makes us paranoid to find the danger.

“And the cool thing about cortisol, when you work in a social environment, is if other people sense that you’re nervous, they get nervous. So all the other gazelle go– [GASP]. They didn’t hear anything. They just saw Steve over there get really freaked out. And so they got all freaked out. And now they all start looking for the danger. Good system. And one of them who didn’t even hear the initial rustle in the grass sees the lion, runs, they all run, they all live another day. Good system.”

“So that when we go to work and somebody says, I think there’s going to be layoffs, all of us are like, what do you mean? Wait– there’s going to be– we’re all paranoid now. We’re all freaked– I shouldn’t have talked in that meeting. We start to get crazy. We start to get paranoid. Our hearts start to race. That’s what cortisol does. It’s trying to keep us alive.

Leadership is a decision, not a position. [@43:10]

“Leadership is not a rank. Leadership is not a position. Leadership is a decision. Leadership is a choice. It has nothing to do with your position in the organization. If you decide to look after the person to the left of you and look after the person to the right of you, you have become a leader.

“You’ve seen the The Spartans? The greatest fighting force of all time? You want to know one of the things that made the Spartans great? Wasn’t their muscles, wasn’t their spears. It was their shields. They stood shield to shield, and the phalanx was stronger because they all– those shields were big. And they were told when they were young children, you either bring your shield home, or you come home on your shield. The punishment for losing your shield was tremendous in battle. Because if you lost your shield, that means you cannot protect the person to the left of you and the person to the right of you, and you have destroyed the phalanx. It’s the shield that matters, not the spear. Not the spear.”

It’s your willingness to sacrifice for someone, to hold that shield up so that they feel safe that makes you a leader.

Service. Service to another. The more we look after each other, the safer we feel, the more we feel like we belong, and the more we will work together to confront the dangers outside.

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Dig Deeper! Simon Sinek’s Books

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
START WITH WHY shows that the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world all think, act, and communicate the same way — and it’s the opposite of what everyone else does. Sinek calls this powerful idea The Golden Circle, and it provides a framework upon which organizations can be built, movements can be led, and people can be inspired. And it all starts with WHY.

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t
Too many workplaces are driven by cynicism, paranoia, and self-interest. But the best ones foster trust and cooperation because their leaders build what Sinek calls a “Circle of Safety” that separates the security inside the team from the challenges outside.

Together Is Better: A Little Book of Inspiration
Filled with inspiring quotes, this richly illustrated fable tells a delightful story of three kids who go on a journey to a new playground and take a stand for what they believe. The story is a metaphor for anyone looking to make a change or wondering how to pursue their dreams. And the message is simple: relationships — real, human relationships — really, really matter. The stronger our relationships, the stronger the bonds of trust and cooperation, the more we can accomplish and the more joy and fulfillment we get from our work and personal lives.

Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team
Whether you’ve just started your first job, are leading a team, or are CEO of your own company, the exercises in this book will help guide you on a path to long-term success and fulfillment, for both you and your colleagues.