Review: Leaders Eat Last – Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek

Leaders eat lastThis review first ran in The Hamilton Spectator Feb. 18.

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

By Simon Sinek

Portfolio / Penguin


If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Good words to live by unless you’re the boss.

Gallup did a poll in 2013 that looked at employee engagement.

If you constantly criticize your employees, 22 per cent of them will be actively disengaged from their jobs. They’ll be unhappy campers who make life miserable for you, their coworkers and your customers.

But if you ignore your employees completely, 40 per cent will disengage.

“Even if we’re getting criticized, we are actually more engaged simply because we feel that at least someone is acknowledging that we exist,” says Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last and Start with Why.

Of course you know better than to freeze out or grind down your direct reports. Gallup found that if you recognize and reward your employees for a job well done, employee disengagement drops to just one per cent.

Of all your responsibilities as a leader, perhaps none is more important than putting your employees inside what Sinek calls a circle of safety. It’s your job to build, expand and defend the circle and decide who’s in and who’s out.

“When we feel the circle of safety around us, we offer our blood, sweat and tears and do everything we can to see our leader’s vision come to life. The only thing our leaders ever need to do is remember whom they serve and it will be our honour and pleasure to serve them back.”

We’re hardwired to want the safety and security of a tribe with a strong leader.  While sabre-toothed tigers no longer lurk outside our caves, it’s still a hostile world. Our organizations are under constant siege from competitors, disruptive innovations and economic downturns.

Strong leaders know we can’t face these challenges head-on if we’re also fighting fires flaring up within our organizations.

“When the people have to manage dangers from inside the organization, the organization itself becomes less able to face the dangers from outside. There is no value in building organizations that compound that danger by adding more threats from the inside.”

Free of infighting, hidden agendas and power plays, we don’t waste our days worrying about who’ll stick a knife in our back. Instead, we have each other’s back. We trust the people we work with. We collaborate and innovate.

“Exceptional organizations all have cultures in which the leaders provide cover from above and the people on the ground look out for each other,” says Sinek.

“It should be the goal of leadership to set a culture free of danger from each other. And the way to do that is by giving people a sense of belonging. By offering them a strong culture based on a clear set of human values and beliefs. By giving them the power to make decisions. By offering trust and empathy.”

Instead of bringing everyone into a circle of safety, weak leaders retreat to an inner circle. They look after themselves and a chosen few, leaving everyone else to fend for themselves. “Silos form, politics entrench, mistakes are covered up instead of exposed, the spread of information slows and unease soon replaces any sense of cooperation and safety.”

Weak leaders break the social contract. They take the pay and the perks but shirk the responsibility to protect those in their care. “If our leaders are to enjoy the trappings of their position in the hierarchy, then we expect them to offer us protection,” says Sinek. Strong leaders make personal sacrifices, put the well-being of others ahead of themselves and have the courage and integrity to do the right thing.

The final word goes to Lieutenant General George Flynn of the United States Marines, where the most junior marines are served first and the most senior eat last. “The cost of leadership is self-interest.”

@jayrobb lives and works in Hamilton and blogs at


Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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