Simon Sinek Video Summary: Why Leaders Eat Last

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In this video Simon Sinek asks the question… Why is it that people in the military are willing to sacrifice themselves for others, while most people in business are looking out for themselves and, in many cases, are paid bonuses for sacrificing others so that they (or the business) can gain. He says this is counter to how humans have evolved and it leads to poor performing companies and unhealthy, sick workers.

The Military vs Business

When military personnel (and other “heroes”) are asked “Why do you risk your life for others?” they regular answer… “Because they would have done it for me”. It seems that biology has a part to play and we are hard-wired to naturally work together and help each other.

Wouldn’t you like to work in an organisation where you know that others are willing to sacrifice themselves so that you might survive?

Our Natural State

Simon Sinek explains that most animals (including humans) survive because we are social animals and we understand the power of co-operation, groups and hierarchy. There are external dangers that we are protected from by forming groups and working together. This is true whether we are hunter/gatherers or whether we are in a competitive business environment.

The human body produces 4 main chemicals that affect how we behave and act:

  1. Endorphins give us a high from exerting ourselves physically
  2. Dopamine give us a high when we accomplish goals or when we progress towards them
  3. Seratonin makes us feel good when we are recognised or when others feel good about themselves for their achievements
  4. Oxytocin makes us feel happy when we experience love, friendship or safety by being with others

These Chemicals and Leadership

The last two chemicals are important when we talk about leadership. True (and lasting) leaders use Seratonin and Oxytocin to balance out highs experienced from Endorphins and Dopamine. These first two chemical can be addictive if not balanced out.

It is natural for there to be an Alpha leader, whether this be a man or woman, and the criteria for the Alpha leadership is different depending on the situation – strength if physical danger is present, creativity or intelligence if problem-solving is the main need, etc.

The group will naturally allow the leader to “go first” and have the spoils – this is the reward for being the leader. However, it doesn’t come free.

When danger is present or when the group is threatened, the group expects the leader to step up and put himself/herself at the front to protect the group from the danger. They expect the leader to lead the whole group to survival. A true leader is willing to give up their perks and protect the group so that they may survive.

With regards to Oxytocin, you get this from:

  1. Physical contact (hugging, shaking hands) or
  2. Acts of human generosity (giving your time and energy and expecting nothing in return).

A leader that is willing to pay for something is not a leader. A leader who is willing to sit down, spend their valuable time and offer help is a leader. People value time and effort and that is why we get a greater Seratonin and Oxytocin hit when we receive a written card instead of a text or email.

Encouraging Leadership Throughout the Organisation

However, you can’t give your time to everyone in the organisation – you just don’t have enough of it. The leader’s job is to make those close to him/her to feel safe and to encourage them to make others feel safe, and so on. It is important to make your circle of safety a big circle, that extends all the way to the edges of your organisation. It is not just for your “inner circle”.

When the frontline staff feel safe then they will invite customers in and make them feel safe.

The Flip Side

On the flip side, there is a negative and destructive chemical called Cortisol. Cortisol causes stress and anxiety and is produced when we sense danger just prior to our decision to fight or flee. It is useful in nature but not so useful in organisations if people sense danger within the area of safety.

Cortisol puts us on edge and it also causes other systems, such as growth and our immune system, to shut down. It also inhibits oxytocin and you don’t feel like helping others since you are worried about you own survival. It’s only designed to be temporary otherwise it causes problems.

The problem with many companies is that people do not feel safe and therefore have heightened levels of cortisol which leads to a lack of co-operation, lack of effectiveness and it is actually making them physically sicker.

The Leader’s Role

In summary, it is the leader’s role to help others in the group and to make them feel safe and secure from the external dangers. It’s about being willing to sacrifice your position and perks so that others may survive.

In addition, leadership is not a rank or a position, it is a choice. It is not reserved for the CEO. If you decide to look after the people around you then you are a leader.


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