Key Point: Be present and for goodness sake… EAT LAST! Our actions define what we really believe, but NOT every single time. If we are consistent in connecting our lips and feet, we usually have positive currency saved up in our integrity “bank account.” So when we screw up and occasionally (hopefully rarely) behave out of character, there is usually room for forgiveness.
Last week we had about 40 leaders watching a webcast on leadership. One of the speakers was Simon Sinek. (More on that later). I had a brutal schedule that day, running back to back meetings, preparing for upcoming Board of Directors and executive sessions, and had little time to devote to the webcast. The person organizing the event works in my group and asked if I could pop in and say a few words. As Chief People Officer, I wanted to do that and promised to sneak in whenever I could shave off other time sensitive commitments. I walked in just before lunch. All attendees were facing the big screen webcast. Lunch was all laid out in the back of the room but none of the participants had par taken yet. I stood there looking at the food (honestly, a light was blinking in the back of my mind saying… “Don’t do this. You never do this, Lorne. You always make sure others eat first, especially when you’re the host or leader”). However, I rationalized that there was way more food than the group could consume and it made perfect sense if I quietly ate before the crowd lined up at the buffet, and then I would say my piece as they ate, and I’d run back into my meeting schedule. This made practical sense. Right? Suddenly, I saw them… Copies of Sinek’s new book sitting on the back table. The title of the book is: LEADERS EAT LAST. Oh, holy $#@$!! What the heck am I doing? It wasn’t the feeling of getting “caught;” it was knowing that I was stepping out of my triangle, away from my own value zone.
Let me transition from Simon Sinek to Kevin Durant, voted the Most Valuable Player in the National Basketball Association. His acceptance speech last week is already noted as one of the best sports orations ever. I hope you make time to watch it on the attached video.
The New Yorker reported on it exceptionally and I’d like to share part of the article:
“Unlike the aggressive, competitive, and sometimes vicious player whom we watch on the court, Durant was open, vulnerable, emotionally brave, and sincere. He reminded everyone not only of his own humanity but also of that of his teammates. They joined him onstage, and he took the time to address each of them, often sharing deeply personal stories. Many were fighting tears, too. This was just an acceptance speech for a league award, not something like the State of the Union, and so the theatrics were a little over the top, but moving nevertheless—like a wedding speech that goes on for way too long but which you never want to end. He spoke at length about Russell Westbrook. He told him that he loved him, and it didn’t seem like mere jock hyperbole. Durant mentioned that the team’s equipment guy had given him a hug and said, ‘This is my first M.V.P.’
Yet Durant’s most memorable remarks, the kind of thrilling moment that indeed will be remembered in history, came when he spoke about his family. He told his brother, step-brother, and father that he loved them, and then he spoke to his mother, Wanda:
The odds were stacked against us. Single parent with two boys by the time you were twenty-one years old. Everybody told us we weren’t supposed to be here. We moved from apartment to apartment by ourselves. One of the best memories I had was when we moved into our first apartment. No bed, no furniture, and we just all sat in the living room and just hugged each other. We thought we’d made it.
Durant told his mother, ‘We weren’t supposed to be here. You made us believe. You kept us off the street. You put clothes on our backs. Food on the table. When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You’re the real M.V.P.’ The N.B.A. should broadcast Durant’s speech this Mother’s Day, and on every one after it. Even the most jaded SuperSonics fan would have to grant that the moment was not only a sports dream but also the American dream come to life. Talk about making it.”
So here are examples of leadership at its most simple, purest and yet finest way. The armed service leaders who inspired Sinek’s book title and who always make sure the troops eat first… The MVP who acknowledges every team member first before acceptance and then his family… And finally, the mother who makes sure her kids eat first and is willing to go hungry.
As for the leader writing this blog and the opening story… I was embarrassed with my hopefully uncharacteristic self-focus. I took my full plate to the front of the group, hit myself playfully over the head with Sinek’s book, and explained that I was NOT a proponent of Leaders Eat FIRST. There was much laughter about it. I apologized, left my food on the plate, said my words, and then sheepishly ate later after people were through the food line. I hope they understood and forgave me.
- As a leader, be very aware of the small/big things that define your leadership beliefs, and please… Eat last. Put your team first.
- When you screw up, admit it and get back to eating last… Aim to unconsciously make it a way of life.
- Care for and love every teammate, including the ones that you occasionally go toe-to-toe with. You need them and they need all of you.
- Always, not just on Mothers Day, thank and hug your first leader…Your mom. She always ate last.
Eating Last in The Triangle,