Leaders eat last and this is why

Leadership is not about the perks. A good leader has people’s respect and protect the team, so people will follow the leader.

Key takeaways:

  • Leaders make sure the herd are fed first: this is protection from the leader;
  • In return, the followers make sure leaders have something to eat: this is support and respect;
  • Leadership is not only at workplaces but also at home.

I came across the book, Leaders Eat Last (by Simon Sinek) some time ago and bought a hard copy last year. Finally got time to read it and indeed, a great book to read about leadership! Highly recommended for leaders and leaders-to-be.

In Sinek’s book, he told a story about how US Marines eat. Junior Marines eat first, and the more senior, the later. The senior Marines make sure junior ones are fed because they do hard works; this is ‘protection’ that the leadership from senior Marines provides. In return, junior Marines accomplish missions knowing that they are well protected in the team; junior Marines respect the senior. Leadership gains respect and support; this transcends through the whole organisation and shapes the culture.

While reading the book on a long-haul flight to Asia, I found that we are doing the same thing at home. Not sure since when, whenever we have a plate of foods on the dinner table, we always leave some for Mum. This is our culture at home.

When I was a kid, Mum usually prepared some snacks and fruits on the dinner table so kids always had something to eat when we were hungry. Naturally, as a kid, I ‘cherry-picked’ the nice ones from the plate. I believe my siblings also did that. By evening, the remaining snacks or fruits were always those ‘ugly ones’. When Mum was to clean up the plates in the evening, she would just eat whatever left, so foods won’t get wasted. She always ate those ‘ugly ones’.

I didn’t notice that ‘culture’ at home until I had my own kids.

As parents, we make sure kids get fed first. My wife is a busy medical professional and semi-professional writer who keeps a few columns and blogs for various digital media and magazines. While we get busier with kids and working lives, I noticed that kids often ate all fruits on the table. If I didn’t keep a portion for my wife from the hungry little monsters, then she often ‘forgot’ to have her fruits because the plate would be empty by the time she washed it in the evening. This reminded me of my Mum and our culture at home.

So, I told kids that “we always preserve the best portion of the fruit plates for Mum and this is how we show our respect to our Mum”. My young kids got that quickly and this has become a part of our culture at home.

Most people don’t realise how hard raising kids could be until they become parents; I was one of them. To show my appreciation and gratitude, I preserve the culture I learned at home and passed that to my kids: we ensure that our leader has something good to eat although she usually eats last. We don’t expect any return from our leader at home, but deep down we all know that she loves us and will take care of us no matter what.

Leadership is not only at workplaces. Everyone is a leader. You are the leader of yourself, guiding your own pace and direction in your life and career. You may be the leader at home who offers protection to your family. Being a good leader at work starts from being a great leader at home: it’s all about respect and protection.

I still keep the best portion of foods for my parents when I see them. At home, we keep the best for my wife. This is how we show our love to her because we know that she will always love us. This is how I train my kids to become future leaders.

Dr. C. Richard Wu @ REEAConsulting.com

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