Leaders Eat Last
"Great leaders would sooner sacrifice what is theirs to save what is ours. They would never sacrifice what is ours to save what is theirs. This is what it means to be a leader. It means they choose to go first into danger, headfirst toward the unknown. When we feel sure they will keep us safe, we will march behind them and work tirelessly to see their vision come to life and proudly call ourselves their followers." —Phillip Larkin, The Complete Poems of Phillip Larkin
I found the above quote by Phillip Larkin in the book Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. It is not an accident Simon uses the U. S. Military, and in particular the United States Marine Corps, to explain the importance of leaders being focused on their people. These organizations are in a position where the cost of failure can be catastrophic. Without a doubt, committed people are the heart of the success of all our military services.
When you share a meal with Marines, you will notice the most junior are served first and the most senior are served last. No order is given. Marines just do it. The reason Marine leaders are expected to eat last is because the price of real leadership is placing the needs of your people above your own needs.
After finishing Leaders Eat Last, I asked my grandson what he thought. Michael is a captain in the U. S. Army, and I was curious whether he had had a similar experience. He informed me the U. S. Army trained their leaders in a similar manner. Here is what he said:
Well, in a nutshell as a leader, one of your primary duties is to ensure the welfare of your soldiers. Part of that is making sure that they are fed on time and have enough food. If you skip in front of them and then there is not enough food for the last man, your men will lose faith that you have their best interest at heart. Even more importantly, the message you are communicating to them is that your time is more important, and your hunger pangs are more real than theirs. It is not just about eating last; it is about trooping the line and making sure that your men have what they need—that every single one of them has food on their plate. There were multiple instances where I would miss a meal because I was planning a mission and my soldiers brought me food where I was. When they trust that you are taking care of them, they will take care of you. —Michael Gore
A servant leader is someone who has clarity about their destination and purpose and influences the head, hands, and hearts of others to follow. The path to influencing others is the heart—that is where commitment comes from. People respond with commitment when they feel part of something greater than themselves, they feel valued, and their basic needs are met.