What We Learned from Leaders Eat Last

Each month after our book club discussion, we will share some highlights from the discussion itself, and also some of our own thoughts that we may not have gotten to share during the livestream.

Last month we read Leaders Eat Last, by Simon Sinek. You do not have to have read the book in order to understand this blog post. It was written in a way that cites and quotes from chapters so as to be implicitly understood. If you would like a preface, however, you may listen to Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk on Leaders Eat Last; it is a perfect cliff notes for the book. If you are inspired to read the book and do not own it yet, you may purchase it on Amazon here! We hope to continue this book discussion ad infinitum within the comments section of this post, and welcome any and all of your thoughts!

As I read Leaders Eat Last, I was amazed by how perfect this book was for our first book club pick! It is poignant and relevant as it covers many topics we discuss here on the Gold Millennial Blog.

I will share our livestream discussion questions, some answers from book club members who participated, and some additional ideas to inspire us to take Sinek’s genius beyond the book.

1. What was your biggest takeaway from this book? What surprised you most?

“I would say the biggest takeaway was just how vital building personal relationships with your coworkers is. There is no such thing as work-life balance. We are cohesive beings. We thrive in a world that is emotionally connected and supportive in an authentic, deep way.

When it comes to friendships, I realized that social media has watered down friendship to a stamp. Healthy relationships require regular consistency of quality heart-to-heart raw, vulnerable sharing of life. This is what is healthy, safe, and the springboard for personal success, for corporate success, for the success of the human race as a whole.

Don’t let the internet cultivate a disconnected culture of abstraction. Value your relationships by investing in them near or far. Dare to be raw and real.”

– Angela

Here Angela is referencing Chapter 15 “Managing the Abstraction,” in which Sinek says that when numbers and data start representing people, the people are dehumanized. A statistic or a news report which describes how 1,000 people died tragically, does not hurt our hearts like a story about one single tragic death (p. 136-138).

People become dehumanized when they are at a distance from us, whether physically or metaphysically, as is the case when people are numbers. It becomes easier for leaders to send out 1,000 pink slips when they don’t know any of those 1,000 people.

a man stands against a wall looking down in a subway station with the number 6.
People are dehumanized when people are numbers.

Practically, this means that companies can lead better when they limit groups to “Dunbar’s Number” of 150, as science shows that this is the maximum number of relationships humans can handle (p. 143).

Sinek recommends meeting with co-workers at least weekly for a lunch or other social gathering for which there is no agenda, and no discussion of work (p. 207). If we never get to know each other, how can we ever expect to trust each other?

Leaders can also bring in constituents from outside the company to tell their stories to staff (p. 146-149). This is particularly impactful for agents and sales teams, but I can see it  being quite powerful in any industry.

Imagine you are a teacher, burnt out and bogged down by the drudgery of school every day from 8am to 3:30pm with a classroom of crazy children. What if an adult were to come in and tell you about how a teacher changed his life – a story like this?

When I was a teacher, I heard this story, and I was instantly a blubbering mess. I will say that I was marginally more inspired to work hard for my students over the next week, but that magic faded. Which makes sense considering the study Sinek cites on page 147, which showed that “our bosses telling us how important our work is, is nowhere near as powerful as us getting to see it ourselves.” I can see that if Teddy himself had come in and told his story, rather than a staff member having read it out loud to us, it would have meant even more.

As for my own biggest takeaway, I feel like I already intuitively understood the concept of the Circle of Safety and stewardship of good leadership, but I loved having Sinek’s theory and terminology to cast a solid narrative around my intuition.

So I didn’t feel really surprised by a lot of what I read in the earlier chapters. What really surprised me was some of Sinek’s insights about Millennials at the end of the book. Coming of age in an age of instant gratification I feel has done us the most damage. It has made us feel we are failures when we have not even begun.

“It’s as if many Millennials are standing at the foot of a mountain and they can see what they want – to make an impact or find fulfillment – they can see the summit. What many can’t seem to see is the mountain.” (p. 265)

I feel this sense of impatience and expectation that Sinek is talking about so strongly, especially when I think back to some of my first blog posts: “What I heard from Failure” and “Follow Your Heart is a Lie.” I have had a lot of different jobs and careers in my life and I’ve started a lot of projects and clubs and organizations and through all of them I see this common thread of me wanting, perhaps even expecting, everything to happen sooner than it ever possibly could.

woman walking on a hiking trail, up a mountain.

Sinek talks about an “elusive career fulfillment” that Millennials seek and can never seem to find. And I’ve been heading in the direction of believing that it just doesn’t exist. I thought I was just jaded by all the fuckery that there inevitably is in every single industry on this planet.

But now I wonder if it does exist – it just might take us twenty years to get there and a lot of us are too impatient to wait, or really what it is is that we have no idea that it takes that long. We think it’s something that comes to us rather quickly. But it actually takes quite a long time. It cannot be rushed, or even achieved sooner by hard work. Time is the only factor. 

I think we hear a lot of success stories like Vani, The Food Babe, whose tiny little hobby blog came to fame when one post muckraking a national yogurt chain went viral. Millennials point to her story and say “Look! She did it! Why can’t I manifest that with my vision board too?” What we don’t understand is that people like Vani just got lucky. She didn’t write that blog post expecting it to go viral. Before she wrote it, the only people who ever read her blog were her mom and her husband. She really just stumbled into fame and stumbled into career fulfillment. I don’t believe that kind of synchronous stumbling happens on all of our paths.

What we have to do is slow down, and have some patience! As a generation I think our biggest, real flaw is that we think something is wrong with us, or more likely we think something is wrong with the world, when we don’t find that One Thing right away, or ever. 

I think we need to realize that not only may it take us our entire lives to find our One Thing, a One Thing may not even actually exist for us. And that’s not something to be ashamed of. And it doesn’t mean we can’t still discover a path towards a fulfilling career.

A One Thing and a fulfilling career are not always synonymous. I know Millennials “want to make an impact,” but we don’t need to be setting off fireworks in our lives every single day, or even with every job we have.

fireworks

2. When are some times you have felt like you were inside a Circle of Safety? Outside?

The concept of the Circle of Safety is a theme throughout the book (Ch 3).

“A lion used to prowl about a field in which four oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four. – Aesop, sixth century B.C.”
(p. 24)

“By creating a Circle of Safety around the people in the organization, leadership reduces the threats people feel inside the group, which frees them up to focus more time and energy to protect the organization from the constant dangers outside and seize the big opportunities. Without a Circle of Safety, people are forced to spend too much time and energy protecting themselves from each other.” (p. 26-27)

When I worked at the school, I felt like I was very much outside of a Circle of Safety. My stories are reminiscent if not identical to the stories of staff from Goldman Sachs that Sinek relates on page 164. At the school, staff quit almost daily and there would always be two rumors after they left – one that they had quit, and another that they were fired. So we never knew the truth. We were all left wondering if they had been fired, and if we were going to be next.

We spent a lot of time talking about all the problems in the school and our bad feelings and our fatigue and hopelessness, who to trust and who we shouldn’t talk with about these things. It diverted a lot of energy away from the job we were supposed to be focusing on – teaching the kids.

img_7308

The leaders of the school told us things like, “the best thing you can do for us is solve your own problems,” and when we spoke up during meetings, we were shot down. Collaboration was not only not encouraged, it was squashed. Everything the leaders said and did created an atmosphere of “every man for himself.” I learned very quickly to keep my mouth shut about my problems, because they might be perceived as failures on my part and cause for dismissal or warnings.

I feel like I understand Sinek’s Circle of Safety so intimately now that I have been in a situation where I was so far outside of it.

3. How do you feel about Sinek’s description of the generations (ch 11-12)(ch 24)? Do you find them to be accurate?

What are some personal stories you can share about how the generational stereotypes have been true or not true?

chart: U.S. births per 1,000 population
A graph from the book charts how U.S. births spiked between 1946 and 1964, the “baby boomers.” (p. 106)

After I read chapters 11 and 12, I was excited to hear from some of the older generations who have actually lived through Sinek’s history lesson, so I was thrilled that my grandma read the book with us and participated in the book discussion. Here is what she had to share:

“I was born in ’43 and I have a lot of aspects of the generation before the boomers. I save everything, in case I might need it some day. I grew up in a culture of need and want, so we had to do that.

When you went to work somewhere, you worked there for the rest of your life. When Grandpa went to work for UPS, he was going to work there for his whole life. People didn’t flit from job to job like they do today.” – Grandma Bernie

I found it fascinating to read about how our culture’s history created the characteristics, beliefs, perspectives, and lives of individuals who lived through the fires of their times. As my Grandma corroborates, in her day, jobs weren’t just jobs – they were careers, and they ended with a gold watch and a retirement package.

Today, not only do we not get a gold watch, we don’t get the time of day, and we don’t even usually get a retirement package. Most companies have stopped offering retirement packages altogether. In Colorado, and in many other states throughout 2018, teachers have been protesting and striking against threats to pension cuts and elimination. This is absurd. The only actual financial benefit of becoming a teacher – that guaranteed pension at the end of a thoroughly exhausting career – is no longer sacred. It is nothing less than a disgrace that this is how we treat the stewards of the next generation.

As a millennial, I felt like I had authority to speak as a millennial, but reading Leaders Eat Last gave me new insights into not only how our generation believes and behaves, but why we do so. I don’t doubt my ability to represent our generation with pride, optimism, and a healthy dose of reality, but now I see clearly that there are a myriad of millennial perspectives outside of my own personal box of reality.

lava

I see how things like participation awards, from which I was sadly not exempt, have negatively affected my world view and the way I function (or fail to function) in society. I also see how we are being asked to adapt to a world we were not raised to live in. The world is not purposely against us, but it is constantly shifting beneath our feet. Sometimes I feel like being a millennial is a bit like playing a real-life game of The Floor is Lava. If you want to go somewhere, you have to leap.

The Floor is Lava

4. Should you be accountable for your behavior both on and off the clock? On social media? Why or why not?

Sinek discusses how abstractions like social media can lead people to abhorrent behavior, as if they are not accountable in the virtual space (Ch 15, p. 140). “An online community gives shy people a chance to be heard, but the flip side is it also allows some people to act out in ways they probably never would in real life.”

What examples have you seen of people being unprofessional on social media?

As Sinek says, the overconfidence people get from social media can go both ways. It can help shy people share and connect socially, but there is also this shadow side to it, and the really, really dark corners where the Internet trolls lurk! It’s hard not to be anywhere online these days without reading ridiculous comments from people that they would never dare to utter in the light of day, or rather, off-screen.

“Online accountability is SUPER important! This is a big issue in a lot of gaming communities, which often strive to ensure players don’t bully or speak hate in chat. I think having accountability online helps create a Circle of Safety.” – Mia

If we want to look at some really big examples, it’s easy to google Trump’s most embarrassing tweets and find a lot of things he (or whoever is behind his account) should not have tweeted. For example, “Fox viewers give low marks to bimbo @MegynKelly will consider other programs!” and in response to outrage, he was totally unapologetic, responding, “Over your life Megyn, you’ve been called a lot worse, wouldn’t you say?” As if that makes it any better!

5. My favorite anecdote is about Captain Marquet, “True Power,” p. 176-184. What is it about the Captain’s story that makes it so powerful? What characteristics does the captain embody that we can emulate to become good leaders?

What I love most about the captain is his humility. The problem with most leaders is that they let their power go to their heads, rather than realizing that power belongs in the hands of the people. Marquet realized this when he disbursed power amongst his team, by shifting authority and holding individuals accountable for their own actions.

img_7310

Marquet is quoted as saying “What happens when the leader is wrong in a top-down culture? Everyone goes off a cliff.” He realized very quickly that “if he was going to succeed, he would have to learn to trust his bottom-ranked crew more than he trusted himself. He had no choice.” (p. 179)

I think the whole point of this story is that good leaders don’t pretend to have all the answers. When they don’t know something, or need help, they model responsibility and show they care for their team by asking for help or delegating tasks to others who are more competent at whatever it is they cannot do.

Simon Sinek quote about leadership

Leadership is not dictatorship. Leadership is service. When we lead, we serve our team, we serve our constituents, and we serve our community.

6. Which of Sinek’s ideas about what Millennials can do (p. 297-302) are you most excited to integrate into your life? Or if not so excited, which do you think you could most benefit from?

I am not very excited about cold turkeying my phone, but I recognize that it is the practice I need to integrate most in my life. According to statistics, 83% of Millennials sleep with their phones. I am certainly no exception. And while I am not ready to relinquish that creature comfort just yet, I am willing to take some baby steps away from my phone.

no phone

Starting with leaving my phone plugged in upstairs in the mornings while I go downstairs and GSD. I’ve also resolved to keep my phone out of sight at mealtimes, and model for my children appropriate self-regulation of screen time.

7. Besides limiting access to technology (p. 302 – 305), what can we do as parents to help prepare the next generation to become the next leaders of this world?

Besides mitigating the distractions of technology, we can also help our children survive in this increasingly complex world by letting them fall, and reminding them that falling does not mean a total failure to get up the mountain! They ought to expect to fall many times while climbing. I think a greater awareness of the fact that there is a mountain, and that it can take a very long time to fall-climb it, will set our children up for success, rather than setting them up with the Millennial expectation that they can just fly to the top of the mountain (in a private jet they manifested with their vision board). 

fall-climb

Whenever I hear the Panic at the Disco’s 2012 song “High Hopes,” I think about Millennials. I know they write sins not tragedies, but in what I find to be a tragic parody of our generation, Brenden Urie sings,

“Had to have high, high hopes for a living / didn’t know how but I always had a feeling / I was gonna be that one in a million… Mama said / fulfill the prophecy / be something greater / go make a legacy / manifest destiny / back in the days / we wanted everything / wanted everything.”

It is only his line “back in the days” and the past tense of “wanted” rather than “want” that I feel is perhaps a nod to the fact that we believed in epic futures for ourselves once upon a time, but that magic has now faded, as we have become jaded. 

It is my ultimate wish for my children… If I am able to give them absolutely nothing more from life than this… I want for them to grow up believing that fairy tales are possible, but never expecting that fairy tales will come true for them. 

8. (Angela’s Bonus Question!)

What would a TRUE leader DO with social media?

Leave your answers to this and any other question in the comments below 😉

Click here to purchase Leaders Eat Last, by Simon Sinek.

3 thoughts on “What We Learned from Leaders Eat Last

  1. “but we don’t need to be setting off fireworks in our lives every single day, or even with every job we have..”- This line stood out for me. I find the hoopla around “constant hustling”, “Waking up at 4.00 AM everyday and move the mountain” (fueled by internet personalities like Gary Vayerchuk) really toxic.

    I was born in early 80s (don’t know whether it makes of me- probably a Xennial) and can so relate to millenials and the chaos surrounding them. And the constant pressure of “settling down in life”. The job market, the world has changed but the societal parameters remained same.

    I might give this book a try but where the richest 1% holds half the wealth of the globe, I expect very little from leaders.

    Sorry for the rant. 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I completely understand how you can feel jaded about leaders. Most of our generation likely does as well. I really think that is why Sinek wrote this book! So that we can start helping each other out of the muck of poor leadership.

      Yes, Xennnial sounds right for you 😉

      And I love that you brought up the fact that constant hustle can be really toxic. That is so relevant 🙏 it is definitely something our culture tries to impose on us and it can lead to a lot of unnecessary guilt and imbalance in our lives.

      Like

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