01 December, 2015

Why Leaders Eat Last

Why Leaders Eat Last

In the Military, it was always reinforced to us that subordinates eat their meals first. Whether this is in a combined mess facility, the officers would hang back and wait until the soldiers had got their meals. Or in a field environment, when the magical hotbox meals were delivered, again the soldiers all went through first before the officers.

So why is this? Well it comes back to having a true understanding about what being a leader is.

Leadership is all about being willing to put yourself at risk (whether this be on the battlefield or in the board room), to ensure that those around you are looked after. As Simon Sinek describes, this creates a circle of safety. This circle of safety is a natural instinct to create successful prides and herds. As humans we have varying success!

Inside the circle is safe, outside the circle is danger. At the outer edge of the circle we put our fearsome soldiers or our workers who are in contact with the customers or our volunteers who are coaching the teams.

At the centre of the circle are the ones we want to protect, our most valuable assets or the hub of organisational command and control.

But sometimes the danger tries to break into the circle of safety. A well-trained, cohesive organisation that has strong leadership will come together to defend as one. The shields will go up and an impenetrable wall of defence is provided, protecting all those within it.

Why Leaders Eat Last

Whereas an organisation that lacks cohesion and has poor leadership, when danger approaches, then those on the outer edge will lack the trust of those around them. They worry about their own survival and this ripples through the organisation. No longer are the shields acting as one, but the danger has infiltrated the circle and the core of the organisation is at risk – but no one cares, survival of the fittest comes into play.

So why do leaders eat last? Because they need their soldiers, their workers on the edge of the circle of safety to be strong, they need them to trust that their leaders have their back; they need them to fight in order for the team to survive.

Being a leader means you must take responsibility for the care and protection of those in your charge, confident that your leaders will take care of you. Simon Sinek

So as a leader, creating this trust and gaining the respect of those on the edge of the circle of safety takes time and energy. It means that sometimes as a leader, you have to put yourself at risk, on the edge of the circle of safety, to show that you really care for your team. The risk of not getting a meal is just one very small way that military leaders show their soldiers they care.

Being given a role such as CEO, President, Chairperson, or team captain is only a rank. This rank does not guarantee that the team around you will protect you with their shields. That requires leadership. Leadership is a choice that you must make to serve those around you. If you decide to protect your own personal success over that of team success, then soon the team will start to also act as individuals and the circle of safety is no longer safe, but a personal liability.

© 2019 Paul Mead