Empathy is One of the Main Skills of a Leader

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Updated: Aug 15, 2023
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In Simon Sinek’s book, Leaders Eat Last, published by Portfolio Penguin in 2014, the subject is introduced that the buck stops at the leader’s desk. The book presents multiple concepts on the types of leaders and leadership styles that make or break the organization, as well as the people within the organization. Is it a “me” or “we” organization? From the human biology of brain chemicals to leadership theories, this is a book of great mental reflection. It has reiterated many teachings from the Maxwell 360 Degree Leader book and other leadership videos such as those by Tony Robbins, as well as others in the related fields and the Northwood Idea.

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The book teaches how to influence those in your group, how to lead forward but also gives inspirational background stories to help motivate. It aids in the mental transition of empathic and long-term leadership, making it an enjoyable and informative read with future goals to work towards. Simon Sinek, born in 1973, is a leadership guru and professor at Columbia University. He, along with his organization, SinekPartners, teaches leaders and organizations how to inspire people through books, videos, and workshops. Sinek has released multiple books, such as “Start with Why” (2009) and “Find Your Why” (2017), spanning a total of six books and multiple videos from TED Talks to other talk show interviews. All his work has proven he is an expert in his field and has helped change multiple businesses for the better.

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The book has a vast amount of important information, but most important to me is the concept of a “circle of safety” and empathy. “Leaders Eat Last” has alignments with the Northwood Idea and the “360 Degree Leader” book we read this semester. There is also information on how your body chemicals affect your leadership abilities and you as a person/leader, and becoming a long-term leader. The Northwood Idea aligns with the book by helping a person develop as a leader in multiple ways. The actions and knowledge of respect, empathy, honesty, achievement, integrity, and responsibility are all qualities that leaders must have and use to be a true and great leader. Great leaders must be able to communicate effectively in speech and writing, demonstrate critical thinking and problem-solving proficiency, demonstrate foundational knowledge of the functional areas of business, and demonstrate acumen applied to the global business environment.

These attributes were talked about in both “The 360 Degree Leader” and “Leaders Eat Last”. When it comes to knowledge, respect, empathy, honesty, achievement, integrity, and responsibility, it’s all about being able to balance all these factors, and being able to build your team up. In “The 360 Degree Leader”, it discusses ideas on how to lead a team and be an asset to the organization and those around you. To be a great leader, you must be able to use empathy to show your coworkers that they matter, and you genuinely care, thus creating a circle of trust and building all members of the team up and not breaking the circle of trust. It is not about manipulating those around you to achieve your goals but influencing those to achieve set goals with you and to pass your vision as a leader to the managers and workers around you.

“Leaders Eat Last” employs the same theories but explained using different examples, including stories of other companies and the Marine Corps. The Spartans, for instance, had a rule and belief stating to punish not the man who loses his sword, breastplate, or spear in battle but the man who loses his shield. The shield’s loss would endanger the men around him if they had to assume a defensive position. This rule coerces the soldier to prioritize his men before himself.

“The whole purpose of maintaining the circle of safety is so that we can invest all our time and energy to guard against the dangers outside. It’s the same reason we lock our doors at night.” (Sinek, S. 2018, Leader Eat Last) For the Spartans, the circle of safety was the key to their military strength and gave them the ability to stand against and conquer their enemies and defend against invaders. The concept of strength in unity is timely and relevant in today’s business culture. If a work culture lacks trust, the company will struggle, and if it becomes every man for himself, the company will always work against itself and it will manifest in its leadership and negative productivity.

Being a long-term leader is one of the great teachings of the book. “Good Leadership Is Like Exercise. We Do Not See Any Improvement to Our Bodies with Day-To-Day Comparisons. In Fact, If We Only Compare the Way Our Bodies Look on a Given Day to How They Looked the Previous Day, We Would Think Our Efforts Had Been Wasted. It’s Only When We Compare Pictures of Ourselves Over a Period of Weeks or Months That We Can See A Stark Difference. The Impact of Leadership Is Best Judged Over Time.” (Sinek, S. (2018). Leaders Eat Last)

In his book, Simon compares two companies, arguing that leading for the long-term is better than leading for the short-term. He compares the short-term leader, Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, to the long-term leader, Jeff Sinegal, former CEO of Costco. Sinek measures profits by the rise and fall of their stocks, connecting them to the decisions made by the company leaders. What Simon Sinek reveals is that Jack Welch of GE (the short-term leader) often experienced fluctuating profits due to irrational decision-making without regard for long-term consequences. Every year, Jack Welch would fire the bottom 10% of his managers at GE to balance the books. This strategy led the company to constantly work against itself, creating a ‘me versus we’ attitude and a hostile, stressful work environment. GE may have made profit, but it seemed more like the result of gambling with the lives of employees for selfish gain — hardly a viable strategy, rather the actions of a man high on dopamine. Sinek, S. (2018). Leaders Eat Last. Such a company, despite its profitability, would not be an ideal place for me to work and I would prefer to take my business elsewhere if possible. Leadership like that of Jack Welch does not align with the qualities of true leaders. Jack Welch appears to be more concerned with financial gains than the true heart of the company, which is the staff who run it.

Jeff Sinegal, the CEO of Costco and a long-term leader, was a man to admire. In my opinion, he created a profound sense of loyalty, trust, and empathy between himself and his employees. His leadership skills elevated him from being a typical manager to being a true leader. A leader has vision and understands the needs of his employees, while a manager is primarily concerned with the end goal and minimizing costs. While Welch was instilling fear in his managers, Jeff Sinegal was more concerned with giving his employees a raise — even amidst an economic crisis in the US. Sinegal believed they should be helping employees during tumultuous times, not letting them go. (Sinek, S. (2018). Leaders eat last.) Hearing this from an employee’s perspective and having a parent who managed to survive the last recession with a job at General Motors, makes me perceive Costco as a business worth pledging allegiance to as both a consumer and potential employee.

The only company that I know did well during the last recession is Menards. They didn’t let anyone go, they recruited more people, and opened new branches throughout the United States. Companies of this caliber are wonderful to hear about, and ones that we should support. Companies that find ways to sacrifice for the sake of their employees and not throw them under the bus are companies that demonstrate true leadership, in my opinion.

Costco’s stock was (and still is) stable and predictable — not particularly exhilarating, but reliable in its steady progress, performance, and profit. When you’re the 2nd largest retailer in the country, predictability is certainly preferable to spontaneity. (Sinek, S. (2018). Leaders eat last). From an investment standpoint, this tenet holds true. If I had the opportunity to invest in either GE or Costco and with the information I have now, I would choose Costco without hesitation.

This would primarily be due to my agreement with its leadership values and my respect for the company’s selection of leaders. In life and stock trading, certainty is a safe bet and for me, it is worth the investment. This is particularly true in a time of recession


My reactions to the book

My thoughts on how the author presented the information about the circle of safety and empathy, as well as how endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin affect the body in positive and negative ways as a leader, is that it was a genius way to connect with the readers and make it relevant to us. The background stories did connect with us. The stories about the Marines prompted me to talk to a coworker about his experience as a marine, and I got to know him better in the fifteen minutes talking to him about the book, than I had in the six months working with him six days a week, sixty hours a week.

The book helped create a circle of trust and brought our workgroup closer together, helping boost our productivity and friendship by fostering a bond. I agree with the author’s viewpoint on empathy and the circle of trust; I believe those were the key concepts that truly resonated with me. This is because at the jobs I loved, we had open communication, an open-door policy, and a love for the job and our coworkers. It felt more like a family than a job. In contrast, at the jobs I hated, I felt like I was always walking on eggshells. I had to mentally prepare myself every morning, two to three times before going in to work.

There were no viewpoints with which I disagreed. My thoughts on leadership have changed slightly after reading this book, but it primarily instilled a greater need for empathy and a circle of safety at work and within one’s family. That is what gives the Marines such strength and confidence – they don’t have to worry about internal dangers and know the man next to them will protect them with their life. That lack of fear enables them to accomplish their mission.


The book is a great leadership guide and is an asset to any leader or future leader who wants to sharpen their leadership skills. I would recommend this to anyone who has any interest at all in leadership and business. It helps you understand why the circle of safety and empathy is important, as well as how certain chemicals in your body affect you as a leader in both positive and negative ways. From stories from Marines, CEOs of businesses, as well as employees and articles and reports – it truly shows how a company’s dollar stops at the leader’s desk. If a leader is a true leader, they will influence their staff in positive ways and build them up by leading forward. If they are not good leaders, they will manipulate those around them and negatively impact the business eventually destroying it or making it a “me” company, not a “we” company.

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Empathy Is One of the Main Skills of a Leader. (2022, Aug 27). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/empathy-is-one-of-the-main-skills-of-a-leader/