Leaders Eat Last

Written by Burt Braunius /
December 14, 2014

Tis the season of eating–at Christmas parties, at family dinners, at church gatherings. Food is everywhere.

Appropriate to the season is the book title, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t (Simon Sinek, Penguin, 2014). We received our copy of the summary of this book recently from “Leaders Book Summaries.” Following is an encapsulation of several key ideas from the book.

One of Aesop’s Fables illustrates the key idea of group safety, which sets the stage for fleshing out the concept that “leaders eat last.”

The Circle of Safety
A lion used to prowl about a field in which four oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.  (Aesop, sixth century BC)

Even in church groups, participants can feel rejection, uneasiness, insecurity, and lack of support. The point of Aesop’s fable is to demonstrate the need for group members to have a circle of safety. And, of course, leaders are responsible for creating such a climate of safety and security, putting the group ahead of themselves. Following are “rules” for safety; or, stating it differently, principles by which leaders care for their groups…giving priority to group needs over their own; i.e., eating last.

“Rule 1: Keep it real—bring people together. The Internet can’t create deep, trusting relationships. Trust begins across the table. Yes, it can be expensive to meet in person. But without strong interpersonal connections, we are less productive, and we have fewer creative ideas at a time when we need them the most.

“Rule 2: Keep it manageable—obey Dunbar’s Number. British anthropologist Robin Dunbar has found that people cannot maintain close relationships with more than 150 people at a time. Traditional societies around the world are generally organized in groups or villages of 100 to 150.  A group any larger erodes cooperation and requires rigid bureaucracy.

“Rule 3: Meet the people you help. Fund-raising workers who get to hear directly from the people they help have far more success. Radiologists who see a patient’s photograph have more accurate findings. We work harder and better when we can see our potential impact.

“Rule 4: Give them time, not just money. Research shows that we place a higher value on time than on monetary contributions. Money’s value is relative, but the value of time and effort is absolute. Giving of our time and attention will create loyalty and make us more likely to give to others.

“Rule 5: Be patient—obey the rule of seven days and seven years. Truly gauging someone’s fit in an organization or in a relationship takes far longer than the time that we typically give it: more than seven days, but less than seven years.

“Part 6: Destructive abundance. For tens of thousands of years, humanity has struggled to survive. For most of that time, we have barely achieved a subsistence lifestyle. In our newly abundant society, the availability of cheap, addictive dopamine rewards can obscure the deeper meaning that we gain from human relationships. Selfish pursuits are out of balance with selfless ones, and group challenges have been replaced by individual temptations. For an organization to be successful, leaders must interrupt the cycle of self-interest that can throw us out of balance.”

Church Leadership Center trains leaders to “eat last.” We serve churches and other ministry groups to prepare congregational leaders for advanced levels of ministry responsibility. We do this by means of assessment interviews and reports; personalized training plans, classes, and certification so that participants are able to increase their effectiveness in all areas of church life. Click here for more information from our web site and to read previous blogs. To view videos about Commissioned Pastors and those who support them, click here.

The content of this email draws heavily from Leaders Book Summaries with the intent of illustrating and recommending this fine service to our readers.


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