Think about simple everyday acts like eating last to be a better leader
The Leaders Eat Last idea has been popularised by Simon Sinek, but there are everyday lessons to implement that can create a better environment for everyone around you to thrive.
The concept comes from the US Marine Corps practice of the lowest ranks eating before their more senior leaders. Often, the senior leaders even serve the food themselves (we’ll come back to that idea of service later).
There’s a humility that comes from this service, and a deeper point when scarcity is introduced. When there are shortages or in times of crisis by eating last you’re proving your priority is to serve others.
Most of you reading this will hopefully not be facing such severe food scarcity in your team, or at lunch in the office, so why is this relevant to entrepreneurship?
This idea of servant leadership is a bit more controversial, but assumes that the betterment of others is the objective of leadership, and is based on two very simple premises:
- I serve because I’m the leader
- I’m the leader because I serve
The assumption in this is that the goal of being a leader is to serve. You share rather than hoard power, you create an environment where others can thrive, and help people to develop and perform at their best.
When you lead an organisation you go from being only focused on your own priorities to having to factor in a lot of diverse needs. You go from paying just your own mortgage to paying five, ten, or a thousand mortgages.
If you’re paying those thousand mortgages then you need to keep at that level to survive. This focus on team preservation over self preservation means different thinking and different prioritisation.
It requires leadership in a non-traditional way.
Don’t have a special parking space
The old fashioned idea of having a reserved parking space at the front because you’re more important is such a weird thing.
If you’re more important, you shouldn’t need a parking space to prove it. It smacks of insecurity.
In our industry especially this is so counter productive. You need to focus on creating a great experience so by taking a parking space near to the building you’re immediate using up a scarce resource that someone else could benefit from.
If I’m driving in to work then I’ll park at the back of the car park or sometimes elsewhere altogether. At one of our spaces I park a mile away and walk the rest of the way in.
There’s a neat life hack in all of this. If you can change your mindset on parking spaces you get the benefit of walking extra distances that you otherwise might not, picking up free steps that you wouldn’t get by parking at the door.
This is a small change, but by doing so you can create a lot of benefit for someone else without losing anything yourself. And if you’re the kind of leader who thinks that having a parking space by the entrance is a sign of how important you are then I’d really urge you to go and get some counselling.
Waiting for the lift
There’s another life hack in this. I used to live in a block of flats on the ninth floor, and was fascinated by how many people would get into the lift and start to mash the close doors button.
I don’t think it’s a placebo like some do in order to create a sense of control, but it always felt so futile to me.
As time went on, and using my beginner’s mind, I started to measure how much time it gained the button masher. This turned out to be consistent in pretty much every other lift I used in the world.
The time it takes from pressing your floor button to the doors closing is five seconds.
If you mash the button to close the doors you gain — at best — four seconds of your life.
There are many benefits to having a patient existence, but even if there were none it is four seconds.
Every second doesn’t count, and if you think it does then that sounds like the perfect shortcut to burnout.
You can’t operate at that level of highly strung — you make bad decisions and worse company.
I get the mindset that is seeking control of a situation, but there’s a level of self-awareness required here.
One of the reasons I don’t like organising events is because I like food. It’s the closest literal example to the concept of leaders eating last for me.
I want to pay credit to someone for totally exemplifying this in a recent meeting with some dignitaries.
It’s a small example, but it was such a perfect demonstration.
While organising lunch, Nick* made clear his dietary requirements to the team, and when we got into the meeting room the right food was placed in front of his place at the table. It was the only thing he could eat from all the food that was there.
When the guests arrived, one of them (unknowingly) took the sandwich from right under Nick’s nose. Nick didn’t flinch or respond.
This selflessness in the face of lunch based heartbreak was fantastic.
It’s a small example, but quite often people would instinctively say “oh no, that’s mine” and everything would be fine and go on but with the guest being a little bit embarrassed, or potentially put out.
There was no lingering awkwardness, no bitterness, just a happy guest innocently tucking into his lunch.
Nick knew the importance of literally eating last in that moment, and it was magic.
I don’t eat at events because if someone else gets the last canapé and it helps to create a sense of feeling well looked after and well nourished as a result of being there then that’s way more important.
I wrote a bit about this in the context of making sure your first meetings and first dates are over a coffee or cup of tea rather than beer or cocktails.
Someone leaving one of your events with an empty stomach is more important, and besides, you get accustomed to stale sandwiches after your first 100 events. Plus food waste is one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions at events so you’re doing your bit for the planet by getting through the leftovers.
Think about whether your needs are really that urgent or pressing, and whether eating last could help others without you losing out at all.
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