They say leaders eat last.
While this is slowly becoming a pithy, overused catchphrase, it’s also a powerful maxim that reminds leaders of their primary role. To take care of their people, and put their well-being first.
It’s an important guideline for any leader in any situation and an actual practice of the United States Marines, where leaders literally eat last.
But there’s another, equally important maxim to follow: Leaders move first.
The Spartans knew this, and the Spartans were no joke. When a neighboring city state was in a tight military situation, they often called upon the Spartans for help.
And when the Spartans were disposed to help, they would often send an army… in the form of a single person.
Not your average joe, but someone who knew what the hell they were doing. Who had courage and competence, and who moved first.
And in most cases, that was enough to get the job done.
As Ryan Holiday points out in Courage is Calling, courage is contagious. So is motion and confidence.
Alexander the Great reportedly said, “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.” Because our mindsets and behaviors catch on, an army of lions led by a sheep becomes an army of sheep. An army of sheep led by a lion becomes an army of lions.
What does this mean for us modern leaders, who (usually) don’t need to charge head-on into a line of enemies armed to the teeth with pointy things?
It’s more or less the same thing. It means one visible leader (regardless of formal rank), acting first and acting courageously, can shift the behavior of an entire group.
It means move first.
We need to stop asking our teams to do what we want and start doing what we want our people to do. They will follow.
This week marks one year since the start of the war in Ukraine, and our thoughts are with the Ukrainian people. We honor the brave men and women who continue to act and lead in the fight to defend their country’s sovereignty and independence, and we mourn the thousands of lives that have been lost in the conflict.