Simon Sinek: Leadership is Human Biology?

Quotes from Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek:

Leaders Eat Last

“Good management is clearly not enough to sustain any organization over the long term…there are real reasons why some organizations may do well over a short period of time but eventually fail: The leadership has failed to create an environment where people really do matter” (George J. Flynn, p. x).

“Leaders are the ones who run headfirst into the unknown. They rush toward danger. They put their own interests aside to protect us or pull us into the future. Leaders would sooner sacrifice what is theirs to save what is ours and they would never sacrifice what is ours to save what is theirs. That is what it means to be a leader. It means they choose to go first into danger, headfirst into the unknown. And when we feel sure they will keep us safe, we will march behind them and work tirelessly to see their visions come to life and proudly call ourselves their followers” (inside book cover).

Employees are People

“True human leadership protects an organization from the internal rivalries that can shatter a culture.  When we have to protect ourselves from each other, the whole organization suffers.  But when trust and cooperation thrive internally, we pull together and the organization grows stronger as a result” (p. 14).

“If certain conditions are met and the people inside the organization feel safe among each other, they will work together to achieve things none of them could have ever achieved alone” (p. 15).

“Those who have the opportunity to work in organizations that treat them like human beings to be protected rather than a resource to be exploited come home at the end of the day with an intense feeling of fulfillment and gratitude” (p. 16).

“Every single employee is someone’s son or someone’s daughter.  Parents work to offer their children a good life and a good education and to teach them the lessons that will help them grow up to be happy, confident and able to use all the talents they were blessed with.  Those parents then hand their children over to [an educational institution and then] a company with the hope that leaders of that company will exercise the same love and care as they have” (p. 17).

“We need to build more organizations that prioritize the care of human beings.  As leaders, it is our sole responsibility to protect our people and, in turn, our people will protect each other and advance the organization together” (p. 18).

“Intimidation, humiliation, isolation, feeling dumb, feeling useless and rejection are all stresses we try to avoid inside the organization.  But the danger inside is controllable and it should be the goal of leadership to set a culture free of danger from each other.  And the way to do that is by giving people a sense of belonging.  By offering them a strong culture based on a clear set of human values and beliefs.  By giving them the power to make decisions.  By offering trust and empathy.  By creating a Circle of Safety” (p. 22).

“[The leaders of great organizations] see the money as a commodity to be managed to help grow their people.  This is why performance really matters.  The better the organization performs, the more fuel there is to build an even bigger, more robust organization that feeds the hearts and souls of those who work there” (p. 17).

“[The] strength and endurance of a company does not come from products or services but from how well their people pull together.  Every member of the group plays a role in maintaining the Circle of Safety and it is the leader’s role to ensure they do” (pp. 22, 23).

“Letting people into your organization is like adopting a child and welcoming them into your home” (p. 23).

“[Having] a job we hate is as bad for our health and sometimes worse than not having a job at all” (p. 28).

“[When] our bosses completely ignore us, 40 percent of us actively disengage from our work.  if our bosses criticize us on a regular basis, 22 percent of us actively disengage.  Meaning, even if we’re getting criticized, we are actually more engaged simply because we feel that at least someone is acknowledging that we exist!  And if our bosses recognize just one of our strengths and reward us fro doing what we’re good at, only 1 percent of us actively disengage from the work we’re expected to do” (p. 28).

“Leaders, the [Whitehall Studies] showed, have overall less stress levels than those who work for them….The lower someone’s rank in the organizational hierarchy, the greater the risk of stress-related health problems, not the other way around….Those who feel they have more control, who feel empowered to make decisions instead of waiting for approval, suffer less stress” (pp. 29, 30).

“We are all social animals….The time we spend getting to know people when we’re not working is part of what it takes to form bonds of trust.  It’s the exact same reason why eating together and doing things as a family really matters….The more familiar we are with each other, the stronger our bonds.  Social interaction is also important for the leaders of an organization. Roaming the halls of the office and engaging with people beyond meetings really matters” (p. 36).

Leadership is Human Biology

“Two chemicals — endorphins and dopamine — are the reason we are driven to hunt, gather, and achieve.  They make us feel good when we find something we’re looking for, build something we need or accomplish our goals.  These are the chemicals of progress” (p. 39).


“Endorphins serve one purpose and one purpose only: to mask physical pain….The biological reason for endorphins…has to do with survival” (pp. 39, 40).

“We can actually develop a craving for endorphins.  That’s why people who are in the habit of regular exercise sometimes crave going for a run or getting to the gym to help them relax….” (p. 40).


“We are very visually-oriented animals….This is the reason we are often told to write down our goals….This is the reason we like to be given a clear goal to achieve to receive a bonus instead of being given some amorphous instructions….Give us something specific we can set our sights on, something we can measure our progress toward, and we are more likely to achieve it….A good vision statement…explains, in specific terms, what they world would look like if everything we did was wildly successful” (pp. 42, 43).

“But there is some fine print at the bottom of the bottle that is often missed.  Dopamine is also highly, highly addictive….Cocaine, nicotine, alcohol and gambling all release dopamine.  And the feeling can be intoxicating….There is another thing to add to that list of things that can hijack our dopamine reward system: social media” (p. 43).

“Accomplishment may be fueled by dopamine.  But that feeling of fulfillment, those lasting feelings of happiness and loyalty, all require engagement with others.  Though we may not reminisce about that goal we hit a decade ago, we will talk about the friends we made as we struggled to make it.  The good news is we also have chemical incentives that reward us with positive feelings when we act in ways that would earn us the trust, love and loyalty of others.  All we have to do to get those feelings is to give a little” (p. 44).

“Finding, building and achieving are only part of our story.  It is the manner in which we make progress that is core to our ability to do well in a dangerous world.  It is the selfless chemicals that make us feel valued when we are in the company of those we trust, give us the feeling of belonging and inspire us to want to work for the good of the group.  It is the selfless chemicals that keep the Circle of Safety strong” (p. 45).

Selfless Chemicals


“There to encourage pro-social behavior, serotonin and oxytocin help us form bonds of trust and friendship so that we will look out for each other….When we cooperate or look out for others, serotonin and oxytocin reward us with the feelings of security, fulfillment, belonging, trust and camaraderie” (p. 46).

“Serotonin is the feeling of pride.  It is the feeling we get when we perceive others like or respect us….Serotonin is attempting to reinforce the bond between parent and child, teacher and student, coach and player, boss and employee, leader and follower” (p. 47).

“It is because of serotonin that we can’t feel a sense of accountability to numbers; we can only feel accountable to people….This helps explain why it feels different to cross a finish line alone, without spectators, compared to when a crowd cheers as we break the tape” (p. 48).

“The more we give of ourselves to see others succeed, the greater our value to the group and the more respect they offer us.  The more respect and recognition we receive, the higher our status in the group and the more incentive we have to continue to give to the group” (p. 48).


“Unlike dopamine, which is about instant gratification, oxytocin is long-lasting.  The more time we spend with someone, the more we are willing to make ourselves vulnerable around them.  As we learn to trust them and earn their trust in return, more more oxytocin flows.  In time, as if by magic, we will realize we have developed a deep bond with this person.  The madness and excitement and spontaneity of the dopamine hit is replaced by a more relaxed, more stable, more long-term oxytocin-driven relationship” (pp. 49, 50).

“My favorite definition of love is giving someone the power to destroy us and trusting they won’t use it” (p. 50).

“Not only does the person performing the tiniest act of courtesy get a shot of oxytocin, not only does the person on the receiving end of an act also get a shot, but someone who witnesses the act of generosity also gets some chemical feel good.  Simply seeing or hearing about acts of human generosity actually inspires us to do the same” (p. 51).

“Oxytocin is also released with physical contact” (p. 51).

“Oxytocin boosts our immune systems, makes us better problem solvers and makes us more resistant to the addictive qualities of dopamine” (p. 52).


“Unfortunately, many of us work in an environment where members of the group don’t care much about one another’s fate….This is a serious problem.  For one thing, cortisol actually inhibits the release of oxytocin, the chemical responsible for empathy.  This means that when there is a weak Circle of Safety and people must invest time and energy to guard about politics and other dangers inside the company, it actually makes us even more selfish and less concerned about one another or the organization” (p. 56).

“A constant flow of cortisol isn’t just bad for our organizations.  It can also do serious damage to our health….It wreaks havoc with our glucose metabolism.  It also increases blood pressure and inflammatory responses and impairs cognitive ability….Whereas oxytocin boosts our immune system, cortisol compromises it.  That our modern world has seen high rates of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other preventable illnesses may not be a coincidence” (p. 57).


“There is a reason we are so offended by the exorbitant and disproportionate compensations of some of the leaders of investment banks.  it has nothing to do with the numbers.  It has to do with this social contract deeply ingrained in what it means to be human.  If our leaders are to enjoy the trappings of their position in the hierarchy, then we expect them to offer us some protection” (p. 65).

“The leaders of organizations who rise through the ranks not because they want it, but because the tribe keeps offering higher status out of gratitude for their willingness to sacrifice, are the true leaders worthy of our trust and loyalty” (p. 67).

“The goal for any leader of any organization is to find balance.  When dopamine is the primary driver, we may achieve a lot but we will feel lonely and unfulfilled no matter how rich and powerful we get.  We live lives of quick hits, in search of the next rush.  Dopamine simply does not help us create things that are built to last.  When we live in a hippie commune, the oxytocin gushing, but without any specific measurable goals or ambition, we can deny ourselves those intense feelings of accomplishment.  No matter how loved we may feel, we may still feel like failures.  The goal, again, is balance” (p. 71).


“We don’t just trust people to obey the rules, we also trust that they know when to break them.  The rules are there for normal operations.  The rules are designed to avoid danger and help ensure that things go smoothly.  And though there are guidelines for how to deal with emergencies, at the end of the day, we trust the expertise of a special few people to know when to break the rules” (p. 74).

“We cannot ‘trust’ rules or technology” (p. 74).

“The responsibility of leaders is to teach their people the rules, train them to gain competency and build their confidence.  At that point, leadership must step back and trust that their people know what they are doing and will do what needs to be done.  In weak organizations, too many people will break the rule for personal gain.  That’s what makes the organizations weak.  In strong organizations, people will break the rules because it is the right thing to do for others” (p. 75).

“The responsibility of a leader is to provide cover from above for their people who are working below.  When people feel they have control over what is right, even if it sometime means breaking the rules, the they will more likely do the right thing.  Courage comes from above.  Our confidence to do what’s right is determined by how trusted we feel by our leaders” (p. 75).


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