The Misguided Theory that ‘Leaders Eat Last’ 🙄

Nonsense. Utter nonsense. It’s a commonly recognised phenomenon that employees follow their leader’s example in how they behave at work. It’s also widely recognised that wellness is central to emotional balance and resilience.

Logically then, how does the ‘Leaders Eat Last’ sentiment hold up? It doesn’t. Simple. A leader who eats last and is therefore not getting what they need to remain strong, will not be a good leader. They will be tired, fractious, and likely lack empathy. No leader would even be appointed who demonstrates these characteristics.

I get this principle if divvying up high profits resulting in performance related bonuses. Absolutely reward those who have supported that leader to achieve exceptional results. This assumes that leader is already paid sufficiently, and presumably more, than their direct and indirect reports. What I do not understand is how anyone can function fully, and to the best of their ability, if they are metaphorically starving.

I especially wanted to consider the concept of ‘Leaders Eat Last’ in the context of identifying leadership potential. Many organisations have up and coming leadership programmes and identify the brightest stars to participate. So how are the brightest and best selected? Would you select someone who consistently arrives scruffily dressed, late, and having missed breakfast? Would this person appear trustworthy to appoint, or would you question their ability to cope plus manage their time and emotions?

If we support a culture where our leaders do not get access to the support, training, hard cash, and available resources, we may soon find our leadership infrastructure collapsing. If however we actively support existing and up and coming leaders through mentoring, coaching, and advice in a crisis, then our organisation will thrive. When viewed in this way what does the aspiration of ‘Leaders Eat Last’ even mean? It sounds aspirational because it implies that as a result our employees get certain benefits and treatment from their leaders.

In actual fact without a ‘Leaders at least eat near the beginning of the queue’, then we are advocating functioning in endurance mode. This psychological mode will not enable compassion, supportive, and reflective leadership. Harking back to Mazlov’s Hierarchy of Needs, humans need a number of levels catered for to attain true self actualisation. Wouldn’t we therefore aspire to the best possible version of ourselves to lead others? Wouldn’t we want our leaders to encourage and fulfill the chance of self actualisation in others?

Let’s face it, most people in many countries reside at the lower tiers of the Mazlov’s Hierarchy. Especially with the Cost of Living Crisis here in the UK, basic functional needs of eating, sleeping, and washing are not always attainable across our society. I agree with leaders, and especially our new Prime Minister, understanding that fact. On the other hand I would not want Liz Truss to be unable to eat or sleep safely, as she would not be at her highest ebb if this was the case.

Overall, I believe our aim should be for everyone in our world, not just our country, to have enough. I believe that our only possibility of achieving world peace is to ensure we solve global poverty and ensure all individuals have ‘enough’. ‘Enough’ may vary by culture, climate, and societal aspirations but would fundamentally meet the survival tier of the Mazlov’s Hierarchy. Currently of course this seems beyond our reach but is it and should it be? We need to reach sustainable living for all which may require far greater innovation and collaboration at all levels. If the people making the key decisions are physically and metaphorically hungry, the solutions reached are unlikely to focus on equality, enough for all, and new ways to distribute it. As humans we behave in a self-centered way if we don’t have enough ourselves. Let’s see if we can achieve generous, open, and clearminded when considering the needs of others and leading the world to ‘Enough for All’ not just enough for some.

Thank you as always for listening. All the best to Liz Truss on entering Number 10 today!

Love Ruth x

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