Leaders Eat Last

Warning! After reading the first part of Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek you may come to the shocking realization that you’re chemically addicted! I’m only partly joking about that. A section of Chapter 5 is literally titled “Our Chemical Dependency”! We’re talking about endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. They all play a part in what drives us – both individually and in groups. I’ll circle back to that, though.

I opted to give this book a read based largely on the title. Having served in the military, I know the leaders eat last mindset. It’s about leaders making sure those under them are taken care of before worrying about themselves. Perhaps surprisingly, that phrase is not one which repeats through the book, though. I barely remember it from the text at all, actually.

But the point is made. The author does so with the idea of the Circle of Safety. Basically, that’s a situation where members of a group, team, company, etc. feel safe in their working environment. They don’t have to watch their backs for fear of their colleagues or coworkers or teammates. The argument is that this leads to much higher overall levels of performance and satisfaction. While I had some discomfort with some of the us vs. them elements, the general idea is reasonable.

Coming back to the chemicals, there are two things that jumped out at me.

First, how can we as coaches use the dopamine response to help our players develop? Dopamine is a chemical that rewards us for accomplishment – small and large. It’s what gives you the sense of satisfaction when you do something. Clearly, that’s something we can take advantage of in coaching. That said, there are definite risks, which the book discusses.

Second, how can we use oxytocin to help develop more cohesive teams? Oxytocin is the chemical that involves our interactions and relationships with others. It helps create stronger bonds, thus strengthening that Circle of Safety. I’m sure you can see how that relates to what we do as coaches.

Going back to the idea that internal competition – at least of the direct variety – working against the Circle of Safety, think about the competitive cauldron concept. I wrote about the cauldron here and here. The peril of using a cauldron, or something like it, to rank players is that it puts the focus too much on the individual and not enough on the team. Something to think about.

Anyway, I think Leaders Eat Last is worth a read. There’s some stuff in the middle that really didn’t do anything for me. Overall, though, I think you’ll find a bunch of stuff to make you think about things in new ways.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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