Leadership expert Simon Sinek’s most recent work, Leaders Eat Last, had it’s title inspired by the powerful culture and ethos of the Marines whose leaders literally eat last. A simple act, but profound effects; it carries with it a powerful message that trickles from the top–down, and ultimately becomes the DNA of the whole organisation.
It’s a paradoxical flip when compared with the typical image of an ambitious person crushing everything in their path—first in, best dressed, right? But it wasn’t what the Officers did first, it was what they did last.
Leadership is contagious. What is modelled by leaders is mimicked by others. As you build strong leadership habits, rather than thinking what could you do first, consider the effects of what you do last.
In honour of Simon Sinek’s great work, here are 8 (more) things that real leaders do last:
1. Leaders Battle Last
“The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.” – Sun Tzu
Leaders navigate through conflicts and trials as though no such thing ever took place. They have developed a keen foresight—seeing problems on the horizon and handling them well before they hit the shore and do any damage. They prefer the prevention rather than the cure.
If you see sparks setting off in your life, put them out before they turn into an inferno. It’s easy to let a crack turn into a canyon. Don’t just focus on where things are currently at, but where things may be heading. You may need to change your trajectory.
2. Leaders Speak Last
They allow others the freedom to express their opinion. They understand that happy employees are those given a voice, and feel part of the company. But leaders don’t just take everything on board, they assess and weigh up all contributions. Then, they speak last and tie everything together with their expertise.
Leaders know they can learn from anyone, but they excel in making the right decisions and choosing the best options. It is neither a dictatorship, nor is it a democracy. Good leadership is striking that perfect balance in between.
3. Leaders Celebrate Last
Because it’s not over till the fat lady sings. Leaders don’t take the pedal off the metal until they’ve well and truly crossed the finish line. The job is not done once it’s signed, sealed, and delivered; it’s done once it’s received, unpacked, and performed. Leaders see things through a panoramic lens.
Getting the product out there is one thing, making sure it performs with great satisfaction is another. You may make some sales in the short run, but you’ll never sustain a healthy career.
A sub-10 second sprint is pointless if you are trying to run a marathon.
4. Leaders Hire Last
The popular business mantra is to hire slow and fire fast. Leaders know that anyone can look like a superstar on paper. It’s easy to dazzle in a dress but not on the dance-floor. The leader says to the potential person:
“Don’t tell me, show me.”
Because quality will beat qualifications every single time.
It’s so easy to get excited during the previews. But you can’t get a refund once you’ve watched the whole thing—enough damage has already been done. Leaders let initial excitements die down before signing the dotted line. A great honeymoon doesn’t guarantee a great marriage.
5. Leaders Sweat Last
You’ve heard it said:
“Work smart, not hard.”
Leaders do both. But they work smart, before they work hard.
They push for productivity, and efficiency. They’re by no means shy about hard work, but they look for potent strategies before applying the elbow grease. They understand the 80/20 rule and create habits that kill ten birds with one stone. Leaders know how to maximise their strengths and outsource their weaknesses.
Are you spending more time labouring over your weaknesses rather than building on your strengths? Know when to be smart and delegate and when to be efficient and get your hands dirty.
6. Leaders Sleep Last
Before they nod off, leaders ask themselves:
“What did I do well today? And what do I need to improve upon?”
They know that mistakes are only failures when you don’t learn from them. And much learning comes from reflecting on the events of each day—to build on the positives and cut out the negatives.
As Earl Nightingale said:
“Success is the progressive realisation of a worthy goal or ideal.”
Remember that the progressive realisation comes from the progressive practice of your successful habits. Hindsight is always 20/20 and crucial for building the foresight and future for successful leadership. Reflect before you sleep.
7. Leaders Ask “How” Last
They ask the more important “Why” question first. Friedrich Nietzsche said:
“He who has a why can endure any how.”
Before a leader engages in building anything, they know that a successful endeavour will depend upon building a foundation of a deeper meaning and deeper “Why.” They know that difficulties and obstacles will certainly arise. At that point, though they possess all the how knowledge to finish a project, it is the why knowledge that brings it to completion.
We have enough information available to learn how to do just about anything. The reason anything gets accomplished is because there’s a powerful enough reason and purpose behind it. Consequently, the reason why you may not be getting anything accomplished is because you haven’t thought enough about why you would like to accomplish your goal.
What’s your why?
8. Leaders Get Off The Ship Last
It is an unspoken, but unbreakable rule—the captain is the last to leave a ship. A former P&O captain said:
“At sea, you have a great sense of responsibility for the people who are beneath you—you need to stay as long as anyone else remains.”
The most tragic ship wrecks are the ones where the captain is the first to abandon the crew.
A leader does not step into a role without accepting the significant responsibilities. They know that every decision they make affects a multitude of lives. If they steer the ship south, everyone on board is going south. If the ship sinks, they were the one behind the wheel.
Being the last to leave means honouring your responsibilities. Being a leader entails having followers. Peter Parker was told:
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
If you’re a leader that’s ignorant of your responsibilities, your ship is headed toward an iceberg.