A decade ago, Simon Sinek asked Marine Corps Lieutenant General George Flynn, “What made the Marines so great?” The general responded, “Officers eat last.” Sinek slightly modified the sentiment and used it as the title of his 2014 bestseller, Leaders Eat Last. The book focuses on the sacrifices that true leaders make for their people and a willingness to “give the very essence of life – food and water – to someone else.” Sinek says that the phrase is both pragmatic and symbolic. True leaders put the needs of others above themselves.
I was recently reflecting on my time in the military. Having served as an officer in the U.S. Army, I am familiar with the practice of leaders eating last – we always ate after our soldiers – but, I’m also I’m familiar with another practice from my time as a paratrooper: leaders jump first. Whenever we went out on a parachute operation, the most senior leader would be the first person out the door of the plane. There are many reasons for having the general, colonel, etc. jump first, but to me it was always symbolic. When times are tough and people are nervous, anxious, or concerned, it’s the job of the leader to step up, show others the way, and model the behavior that everyone else is expected to exhibit.
You don’t have to be jumping out of an airplane at 2am to model the right behavior for others.
- You can jump first by showing team members how to serve customers, own a problem, embrace change, or respect one another. Spend a few minutes reflecting on how well you jump first. When people are anxious about a change to their work, do you roll up your sleeves and show them that you are embracing the new way to do things?
- Do you consistently demonstrate respect to others, so your people know what it’s like to be a valued member of your team?
When you are talking, your people might be distracted. When you send out emails, your people might miss them. However, I guarantee you that people are watching what you do and discussing with others how you behave.
Don’t just tell them; show them. Jump first.
Make it a great day!
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a sought after writer, speaker, and global leadership consultant. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.