A Biological Take on Leadership


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Recently, I picked up a copy of Simon Sinek’s latest book, Leaders Eat Last. His first book, Start with Why, was a bestseller and his TED Talk was widely accepted as a must-see for business leaders. In the past few years, Sinek has had a lot to say about how the most successful businesses have managed to succeed while their competitors did not and, philosophically, how the strongest leaders were able to lead those companies to succeed.

Leaders Eat Last makes the case for leadership that allows people to feel comfortable, safe, and appreciated in the workplace. His argument begins with a discussion of human biology & the hormones that encourage us to behave in specific and important ways. For example, dopamine provides us with a sense of accomplishment, while serotonin and oxytocin rewards us with feelings of security. According to Sinek, if we have an understanding of human biology and why we behave the way we do in certain situations, we can create a “Circle of Safety” in our organizations that allow people to cooperate and belong, rather than fight and selfishly protect. Simon Sinek explains why the book is entitled “Leaders Eat Last” and provides an example of the type of leadership that he thinks we should be able to observe more often in this short clip:

Note: Sadly, this is often a type of leadership that we idolize yet few of us experience. At Sales Engine, we believe in leadership with a little ‘l’. The day-to-day interactions we all have with leaders and managers should add up to a relationship with that individual, not the culturally constructed idea of what a leader should be. 

Sinek does a great job of outlining the traits of a strong leader, but he discusses it in relation to our human biology. This isn’t a position that I’ve heard before and I found it interesting. His argument is that the most successful leaders understand our biology and anthropology–how we react to stress or pressure, acceptance or cooperation. Basically, if my manager can create an environment where I feel safe, appreciated, and heard, I will do all that I can to not only succeed myself, but to allow my coworkers and ultimately, my company to succeed as well. It’s a very simple point, but a poignant one.

He writes, “unfortunately, there are too many leaders of companies who believe…that the best way to motivate their people is by creating a sense of internal urgency or pressure. Based on our biology and anthropology, however, nothing could be further from the truth.” He goes on, “The cultural norms of the majority of companies and organizations today work against our natural biological inclinations. This means that happy, inspired and fulfilled employees are the exception rather than the rule.”

Instead, Sinek urges leaders to think about both their employees and customers as people, rather than numbers filling a spreadsheet; to remind themselves that “every single employee is someone’s son or someone’s daughter”; and to create a “Circle of Safety” around every person in the organization so that they feel safe, accepted, and appreciated.

Leaders Eat Last is more of a declaration than it is a manual or guide-book, but worth reading. If you want to learn more before picking up the book, Sinek’s recent talk for 99U should help you out:

Simon Sinek: Why Leaders Eat Last from 99U on Vimeo.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jenny Poore
Jenny is the Director of Sales and Marketing for Sales Engine, a sales consulting firm based in Chicago that helps companies build and tune their sales engine. Feel free to connect on Twitter: @salesengine and @salesengineJP.


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