Have you ever wondered why our societies are set up in such a hierarchical way? It seems to be natural for us as a species to have those who lead and those who follow. The truth is that this is not an accident. It is in fact the result of millennia of evolution not just of social practices but our own biology and DNA. This of course does not mean that all of those who end up leading are good leaders and there are specific behaviours and expectations that make someone a true leader. This is the overarching concept of Simon Sinek’s book “Leaders eat last.” So, what can we learn from this book?
A leader must provide a sense of safety
Humans have long organised them into groups for one primary reason, it is safer. As a species, we simply could not have survived alone as individuals. Our ancestors would have been eaten by a Sabretooth Tiger or attacked by another tribe and had their belongings taken. Therefore, the fundamental expectation of a leader is to ensure those within the group are safe. If a group cannot trust their leader to keep them safe, the group will disintegrate. When you apply this to the modern workforce, it is no surprise that employee retention is at its lowest level in a long time. With businesses these days happily willing to shut a department to make an extra few million, even though they are already making billions, workers do not feel safe. Therefore, they rarely stick around as they do not feel secure in doing so. After all, without job security, they cannot eat or provide for their families.
Integrity is an essential leadership trait
Even if we are safe, we need to be able to trust our leaders. In order to trust them, they must act with integrity. This doesn’t mean they need to be perfect; we all have our flaws. But we do expect them to be honest and open about their mistakes. Without this sense of honesty and trust, we will never truly feel safe, even if we are safe. If your boss fires someone every month and doesn’t tell you why, you are going to assume that you could be next, right? However, if it turned out those employees were stealing or doing something else inappropriate, you would feel more comfortable. You know that not only are you safe because you are not stealing, but that you can be sure that those around you for the long term would also not steal. However, if the reverse were true and you found out those who were trying to stop people stealing were the ones fired and they were trying to cover it up, the reverse would be true.
A leader puts other people first
Let’s imagine you were voting in an election, which candidate would you vote for? One who promised to make as much money for them and their friends and then help others out after? Or one who promised to make sure that everyone else had better prospects for them and their families? It is of course option 2, but how many times in business have you seen an organisation like Option 2? Most organisations these days are run a lot more along the lines of option 1 – the shareholders and management get their cut of the profits first, while those doing the work get the scraps leftover. Again, it is no coincidence that as a result, businesses around the world are struggling to attract and retain the right talent for this exact reason. Why would you stay within an organisation for the long term when you are not provided with sufficient opportunity and reward? If you did find an organisation operated like option 2, everyone would want to work there and hardly anyone would lead. It is also no surprise that those organisations that do run employee centric organisations make significantly more money than those that do not as result. It is also an established principle of successful military leadership, in the US Marine Corp for example, it is standard practice that at every meal, the leaders eat last and the rank and file eat first, because if they are not looked after, they are not going to fight for you when most needed.
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