Simon Sinek, is the author of an excellent and well written book entitled, " Leaders Eat Last." I agree with the supposition of his premise but strongly disagree with the application. What Simon is inferring is good leaders take care of the team's needs first, then their own. Simon uses Marine Corps leaders to illustrate his point of leaders allowing junior soldiers to eat first. In the military is is tradition since the days of General George Washington to allow the lower enlisted to eat first. This tiny gesture means a lot to a poorly paid soldiers who is suffering the frigid cold of the Battle of the Bulge or the scorching heat of the Iraqi desert. In the business world, where most employees are well compensated, and provided the best equipment to work with, the concept of leaders eating last is not as meaningful.
You see by waiting to eat last you have no idea if the food was suitable for the team, by waiting to eat, it is possible you are engrossed in some other pressing task and consequently you are missing an opportunity to socialize over a meal with the team. One of my most cherished memories occurred while I was participating in a field training exercise in Germany back in 1985. It was chow time and all of the lower ranking soldiers like me, were gathered together eating our meal when all of a sudden, someone yells Attention! In our mist had stepped the V Corps Commander, a three star general. General Graves ignored our astonishment and then asked if we would give him permission to join us.
For the next thirty minutes he asked us about the chow, our living conditions, and if we were receiving mail from home. He then asked who was the ranking member of our group and he handed that soldier a Commander's Coin. In thirty minutes the General got valuable information he used to increase troop morale. By taking time to eat with the team, the General got unfiltered information from the troops. He could have asked any unit Commander about the status of mail, chow, and quarters, but as a seasoned commander, he knew, the information would always be presented in the most positive of lights.
As a direct result of tour meal with the V Corps Commander, our mail delivery became more frequent, chow went from one hot meal to two hot meals a day, and although our living quarters continued to be horrible, we did note that hot showers were now available on a limited basis.
Simon Sinek is an expert in his field and I repeat, his book is masterful, but trust me when I tell you, leaders should eat with the troops as often as possible. I say this metaphorically of course but truth be told management by walking around and meeting the team is very rewarding to all concerned.
Leaders eating last is a noble concept and in certain instances, such as a shortage of food, the leader will undoubtedly inspire the led. Practically speaking however, leaders and the led are better served when leaders visit employees where they work. From time to time leaders should visit the factory floor to see how policy, procedures, and practices impact the led. Eating with the team, means you not only assign task, you show up to weddings, funerals, and births, if invited. Leaders eating last is a concept that has lost it's utility in the knowledge based economy that replaced the service economy not so long ago.