In studying team dynamics, and trying to determine why some teams pull together while others pull each other apart, Simon Sinek learned found an answer in a surprising place: the U.S. Marines. “Officers eat last,” a Marine Corps general told him, referring to the tradition of higher-ranking officers queuing up at the end of the mess hall line after their subordinates. To Sinek, the military custom told him something essential about what makes a good leader in any context: Putting others first and, when necessary, making sacrifices for the sake of the group.
Leaders who take this approach inspire loyalty and generosity in their employees and create what Sinek calls a “circle of safety” — a group of people who feel safe among themselves and work together to oppose threats to the group. Sounds great, right?
But at some companies, employees feel threatened not just from outside forces like a financial downturn or unforeseen challenges but also from their co-workers. In cutthroat environments like this, there’s no safety zone.
Leaders at these companies create the culture of their workplaces. If they prioritize profits over people and short-term goals over long-term purpose, the company will be a competitive place where people sacrifice their humanity for the sake of accomplishing short-term goals—a practice that, long-term, may be bad not just for culture but for business, too.
In Leaders Eat Last, Sinek illustrates the qualities that set great leaders and their companies apart. Great leaders see employees as people, not disposable assets, and prioritize their well-being above everything else, including profits and including themselves. And though it may seem paradoxical, these are the companies and teams that flourish most in the long run.