An Overview of
Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t
By Simon Sinek
Sinek explored not only the idea of why some teams pull together to become stronger and more successful, he also examined the brain chemistry behind it. As a former Biology teacher, I’m intrigued by the number of times during my quest to learn more about leadership that hormones are referenced. As a leader or a follower, our bodies respond chemically to our experiences. It turns out how we feel affects how we trust and in turn the leader or the follower we become.
Sinek uses moving real life examples to thoroughly engage the reader. One of my most striking memories of the book is about the circle of safety. When our leaders create a safe, trusting work place, we can all work more effectively with our teams and achieve greater overall success. Remove the circle of safety and out of our evolutionary need to survive our primal brain takes over and we are forced to spend our energy looking out for ourselves rather than contributing to a team. Sinek explained that you can feel the circle of safety – you know what you do is valued, your leaders have your back and you know you belong. Leaders, Sinek emphasized, “are responsible for how wide the Circle of Safety extends” (p. 23). It’s only effective if everyone is included.
Endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin are the four primary chemcials that contribute to our body’s positive feelings or happy state as Sinek referred. The first two are the selfish ones designed to ensure your survival as a person, wheres, the second two, serotonin and oxytocin, help you to socialize and cooperate with others (p. 37-38). Endorphins mask the pain and enable you to keep going while dopamine gives you the feeling of accomplishment and makes you want to do it again (p. 41). Serotonin, on the other hand, helps us work hard to give back to the group. The more you give back the more you are seen as a leader (p. 49). Oxytocin is the trust hormone, “it makes us social” (p. 49). Mix in a little cortisol to up the stress and anxiety factor and you have quite a cocktail depending on the culture that you create.
Sinek explained that overtime alphas emerge in our social hierarchies and we follow because these leaders are expected to protect us. It’s part of the social contract. Great leaders do what they need to help those in their care. The accolades and spotlight continue to be offered by the people as a thank-you for their leadership. Leaders who forget that won’t lead for long. As Sinek noted, “the people always have the power” (p. 67) and the true power lies in realizing that we are all responsible for protecting the circle of safety. While increased authority enables formal leaders to do more. Leadership is about the responsibility to do more for others, it’s looking after those in your care. Sinek concluded it’s something we can all do regardless of rank. Look after those in your circle (p. 215-216).
- Sinek offered biological connections to explain why we respond the way that we do. He also noted the impact our small choices have on whether or not we rise as leaders or fall from grace. As formal or informal leaders, it’s important to consider the type of working environment that we create. I’ve worked for both types of leaders and can tell you it’s exhausting when the circle of safety is in jeopardy. When people are reduced to numbers and the toxic fear begins to spread, no one wins. Your primitive brain takes over in an attempt to ensure your survival. All your energy goes into managing your stress and protecting yourself and your work suffers.
- As leaders, we need to step back and consider the environments that we are creating and consider the needs of our followers. The more I learn about leadership the more interconnections there are between different leadership theories. They all share similarities, but what makes a good leader great is not a simple as it seems. It’s how you put all of that knowledge into action each day that determines the difference you will make.
You may also want to check out his TED Talks:
- Great Leaders Inspire Action – September 2009
- Why Good Leaders Make you Feel Safe – March 2014
- TED Talk Bio
Sinek, S. (2014). Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. New York : Penguin.
Summary by Key Takeaways – http://keytakeaways.io/books/leaders-eat-last/
10 Big Ideas from Leaders Eat Last – http://www.slideshare.net/DeanBokhari/10-big-ideas-from-leaders-eat-last-by-simon-sinek