for when your contribution or leadership isn’t being acknowledged…
welcome to your Sunday Love Letter by Kelly Diels. I send these every Sunday by email and publish a few of them here, on my website. If you’d like to get ALL of these doses of radical encouragement, you can subscribe, here.
Hello! I was at a bookstore last week, perusing the motivational, business and leadership titles…
…and ended up thoroughly exasperated.
There was a book by Simon Sinek that I picked up and flipped through called Leaders Eat Last.
This, for me, is both true AND something I’m trying to navigate without the requisite hairshirt and ashes.
As a womxn, as a culture maker, as a supporter and champion of other womxn, and as a mother who has made a decade of breakfasts out of the crusts I cut off someone else’s sandwiches, I am thoroughly acquainted with putting everyone else’s interests first. Eating last has been the story of my entire life — so much so that in 2018 I made this resolution: “Womxn do not eat last in my house.”
For womxn and marginalized people whose labour and time automatically gets co-opted into other people’s agendas, our leadership challenge is to continue to work in the best interest of our families, communities and PLANET while also making our personal wellbeing a priority. We have to offer this kind of culture-making leadership without extinguishing ourselves. If we do not draw those boundaries, we get erased, overworked and burned out. Without intervention, burnout is the inevitable product of our socially-imposed roles/identities and the bias against those identities that we encounter every single day.
The reason this book irritated me so much is because Sinek says he learned the leaders-eat-last principle from an interview with a General, who explained that this is a Marine Corp practice. Junior marines eat first; officers eat last. Literally and metaphorically. That’s why the Marines apparently function so effectively as an organization.
And I was like: have you not ever been in a kitchen with a mother? You had to learn this in your forties though a one-off interview with a military leader? Where have you been your entire life?!!!!
The leadership concept that’s so new and radical to Sinek is the ordinary reality of most womxn and caregivers and mothers and parents and community-builders and culture-makers. We put the needs of others, first, — yet our practices have been unremarked upon in mainstream leadership studies for…forever.
Yet if a white, male Marine Corp General tells a white, male leadership expert the same thing, it’s so outside-the-box of what constitutes corporate and public leadership that it becomes a radical new leadership doctrine. Extra! Extra! Read All About It: the mark of a great leader is their absolute commitment to the best interests of those to whom they have responsibilities.
To some of us this is not exactly new. In fact, it’s so routine and the norm for some of us that we have to guard against the over-application of it; otherwise we won’t eat at all.
But I’m not writing this Sunday Love Letter to infuriate you. I’m writing this to validate you.
For so long, in corporate and self-improvement spaces, people and programs have tried to train womxn to stop doing X and start doing Y in order to be ‘leaders’. Yet when people in more privileged bodies start behaving the way that womxn have been conditioned to behave (the same behaviours that leadership programs try to intervene and get womxn to stopdoing) then STOP THE PRESSES, this is extraordinary leadership!
The Marines and Simon Sinek didn’t invent leaders eat last. Mothers and caregivers did.
When I was asked to facilitate a dinner session last November about “Motherhood and Leadership”, for example, I knew that our usual conversation is about how hard it is for womxn to balance work and life; that somehow motherhood is at odds with leadership. I did not want to have that conversation, because it erases what I know to be true: that motherhood is leadership. So that’s the conversation I stewarded, instead: there is no conflict between motherhood and leadership. Motherhood IS leadership.
And it’s noteworthy that although in some of the interviews about his book, Sinek talks about mothers and their routine, extraordinary sacrifices, in his book he positions the Marine Corp General as the source of this insight. I’m guessing that writing a book called Leaders Eat Last about the leadership lessons you can learn from the ordinary, routine practices of mothers and womxn and caregivers and marginalized peoples would not generate the same bestselling buzz (nor the nearly six-figure training contract from I.C.E.. Yes, I.C.E.).
In other words: there is nothing wrong with you. There’s nothing wrong with your practices or behaviour. There’s nothing wrong with your leadership. There never was. In fact, our ordinary behaviours are the stuff of extraordinary leadership and exactly what we need to flourish — personally, and as a culture.
This is why I’m always saying We Are The Culture Makers (and writing a book about it, and teaching it). Because for way too long, we’ve been made to feel like something is wrong with us and we have to fix ourselves in order to rise…or even to get rights, resources, and basic respect. But the problem in our way isn’t our own aptitudes or skills; it’s BIAS. It’s oppression. It’s erasure. When we do something, it’s invisible or wrong. But when someone in a more privileged body does the same thing, it’s brilliant.
Actually, it was always brilliant. You were always brilliant. Your perspective and leadership was always exactly what we needed — and the truth is, we need even more of it. You’re not broken and you don’t need to change anything…except our culture.
And we can do that together. Together, we have every single thing we need to succeed*.
Because we are the culture makers and we always have been.
love + justice,
*h/t Vicki Saunders, founder of SheEO
PS If you liked this newsletter, you’ll probably also like CV Harquail’s book FEMINISM: A Key Idea for Business and Society. She spends some time detailing how some influential business concepts that went mainstream were often appropriated from feminist theory but renamed something else; and how even though feminism often gets cast as an impediment to business, feminist practices have actually improved workplaces and businesses. #wearetheculturemakers
I write, work and live on land that is the unceded territory of the Stó:lō.
Important to note: just ‘cuz I mention someone’s work does not mean we know each other. It doesn’t mean they even know I exist nor does it mean that they like me or approve of my work. Nor does it mean I endorse them unequivocally or that they endorse me. It means that there’s a particular cultural thing that I’m trying to talk about and an idea or project of their’s is relevant and I want to give credit where credit is due.