Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t

Leaders Eat Last book cover
By Simon Sinek | Review by Meredith Birkhead
ISBN 9781591848011
Portfolio: Extended Edition
Published May 23, 2017

From the basketball court to the conference room, cooperation and trust are vital components of a successful team. In this book, New York Times bestselling author Simon Sinek explores how some organizations thrive under inspiring leadership and other companies languish due to a breakdown of internal relationships.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead was once asked what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture. Her answer: A 15,000-year-old fractured femur discovered at an archaeological site. A broken femur that healed was evidence that a human being had taken time to protect someone else and help them through recovery. Our earliest ancestors realized the value of teamwork and built what Sinek refers to as the “Circle of Safety” to better protect themselves against outside dangers.

Although we’re no longer facing the same threats, the Circle of Safety remains relevant today, especially in workplace culture. Organizations that foster trust and cooperation build a Circle of Safety around their employees and company. This protection prevents cynicism, fear, and self-interest from permeating into the daily lives of employees. Without it, one’s focus is on self-preservation, which negatively affects productivity, creativity, and mental and physical health.

When the Circle of Safety is strong, teammates have a sense of belonging, which motivates them to share ideas and support each other through challenges. Oftentimes, leaders are focused on financial goals or growth as opposed to the wellbeing of their employees and foster a stressed and competitive workplace. When employees must dedicate time and energy to protect themselves against office politics and unrealistic goals, they will adapt to become more selfish and less concerned about the success of their colleagues or the organization as a whole. The team completely breaks down and, as a result, financial goals aren’t met or are achieved at a greater expense to the company.


1. So Goes the Culture, So Goes the Company

In a weak culture, employees veer away from doing “the right thing” in favor of doing “the thing that’s right for me.” Leaders should reward performance but create a safe and connected community.

2. So Goes the Leader, So Goes the Company

A leader must take responsibility for the success of each employee by ensuring that everyone is well-trained and feels confident in their position, being willing to share knowledge, and ask questions or offer help.

3. Integrity Matters

When leaders take steps to protect their own interests, they send a message to everyone in the organization that it is OK to do the same. Building trust requires nothing more than telling the truth.

4. Friends Matter

Leaders should prioritize opportunities for employees across all levels to get to know each other. Colleagues bridge gaps by forging friendships that give them perspective and a sense of common purpose. Retreats and other social gatherings build trust and cooperation.

5. Lead the People, Not the Numbers

While profit is a goal of any business, it should not be the primary responsibility of a company. Leaders should place value on their employees and they will see loyalty in return.

In these uncertain times, employees are looking for leaders they can trust. Executives who focus on people over profits ensure healthy growth, a stronger workforce, and a lasting legacy. 

Meredith Birkhead

Meredith Birkhead is an association professional at Association Headquarters in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She may be reached at mbirkhead@ahint.com.

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