The Art & Practice of Strategic Leadership

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“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…”Simon Sinek.

Leaders eat last for many reasons. True organizational success depends on service driven leaders. Organizational success depends on serving others before oneself, which breeds unbelievable loyalty. This loyalty drives ultimate organizational progress and long term well being. A well being that binds and outlasts even the best organizations. Personal example, trust and empathy, the right question at the right time and understanding basic biology and hormones are in fact, very useful, and even essential concepts when leading any organization. Applying the general concept of leaders eat last, personal example at every level is very obviously beneficial. People will remember what you do, and not necessarily what you write or speak.

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While at the tactical level, leaders literally eat last to instill a culture of ethics, caring, and dignity and respect; the same concept applies organizationally. At the organizational level, leaders who eat last and put others before themselves begin to truly instill this incredibly powerful habit across their organizations. Leading in this way, at any level, yields great results. If this becomes a habit that one physically does, talks about, and practices; there is a powerful personal example for organizational success through proven caring and hubris that goes a long way with the people in an any organization. I intend to set a daily, positive personal example in my next position.

Building trust and empathy in a higher level staff or command leadership requires a slightly different dynamic than at the tactical level, but the same principles apply. In higher level staff positions, leaders have much of the responsibility with very little authority to make significant decisions, but rather only to recommend what the best actions might be for decision making. That being said, servant leadership and building trust and empathy remains a key and essential part of any successful organization. “Building trust requires nothing more than telling the truth. That’s it.

No complicated formula.” A way to build trust and empathy is to literally eat last, but also to simply show genuine care and concern for people in your organization. If people truly are an organization’s most valuable asset, leaders must put forth the genuine time and effort to demonstrate this principle to your people. A significant, simple and powerful way to demonstrate this is through simply demonstrating common courtesy, really taking time to get to know people, and formal and informal counseling; all three will go a long way. People in any organization recognize genuine efforts by leaders. I intend to take time to genuinely get to know people in my next organization.

We often talk about culture and talent management, but rarely I would submit, put forth the necessary effort to actually achieve our desired results. That is, have we asked the right question? More importantly, have we asked the right question at the right time? This works both up and down the chain of command. A well timed question to or by a subordinate or superior about work, family or hobbies can be advantageous to leaders. Questions can work to benefit the individual and the organization. I intend to think deliberately about the timing and meaning of questions, both up and down the chain of command. Emotional intelligence, or at the biological level being aware of four key hormones: endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.

As Simon Sinek lays out in his book Leaders Eat Last: Why some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, these hormones, drive both selfish behaviors and leadership behaviors. In practical application, it is good to be aware of these; however it is even better to be able to provide practical application in an organization. For example, understanding what drives your employees and your boss can be very helpful. While words are important, and policies and memos are necessary, they will rarely resonate past one’s own personal tenure. Actions in our case, speak louder than words. Emotional intelligence and understanding one’s personal situation and personality traits will make us collectively better. I intend to recognize and be more aware of actions that will capitalize on team building at the organizational level.

In conclusion, it is critically important to put all of this in context. These concepts will be applied at a key time of professional transition to higher level leadership positions and responsibilities. The application of effective, meaningful leadership at the operational and strategic level becomes increasingly more difficult but also more important for mission accomplishment. While good leadership starts at the top, it should also be cultivated from within. People in fact are the very essential part of any organization and they deserve good leadership. Demonstrating a positive personal example, fostering trust and empathy, asking the right questions and developing emotional intelligence will only strengthen and foster our collective leadership and organizations.

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