Leading by actions

Santosh Nair, ex-CEO, Camson Bio reviews Leaders Eat Last

Published 10 years ago on Aug 08, 2014 2 minutes Read

Reading makes for good company, and what better company to be in than that of idealists and exemplary leaders. A sequel to his bestseller Start With Why, Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last speaks volumes on the subject of leadership in an unusual way. As the name suggests, leaders should not only put themselves first but also put others before them. Only then can organisations build a rich legacy. Sinek has used an assemblage of leaders and organisations as examples of our times.

There are three key issues discussed in this masterpiece: the circle of safety, the happy chemicals and something I would like to call longevity. The common thread that runs through these concepts is empathy. Just like the various layers of atmosphere protect us from the sun’s harshness, so should leaders supervise their subordinates and also act as protectors to everyone in the organisation. Sinek writes, “…like the Spartans, we will have to learn that our strength will come not from the sharpness of our spears, but from our willingness to offer others the protection of our shields.”

Sinek goes on to talk about what he calls the ‘happy’ chemicals — endorphin, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin — that are secreted in response to different stimuli. The book mostly revolves around these chemicals and their role in driving leaders’ thoughts and deeds. He terms endorphins and dopamine as ‘selfish’ chemicals that help get things done and serotonin and oxytocin as ‘selfless’ chemicals that strengthen social bonds and foster connection and collaboration. Sinek explains that while both selfless and selfish chemicals are important for our well-being, one should not be favoured at the cost of the other; a perfect balance is crucial.

He elaborates that good leadership is like an exercise for the body: its effects are not seen immediately but only over a period of time. CEOs who focus on long-term prosperity and growth are true to their calling, in comparison with those who are in business for short-term gains. Sinek chose Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, and Jeff Sinegal, former CEO of Costco, as examples. One sought short-term gains, while the other aimed for the long haul. No surprises for guessing which of the two giants sleeps peacefully at night. 

As per Sinek’s advice, we need to work patiently towards organisational goals, like a farmer who has planted his crop and is waiting for the produce to flourish. I’ll leave you with what I consider one of the best lines in the book: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” So, are you that leader?