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Leadership Lesson 20 – Eat!

By: Curt Stowers

Is there anyone out there who does not enjoy Thanksgiving dinner? How about the Fourth of July BBQ? Or the office potluck where everyone brings copious amounts of food to eat?

At the base of Maslow’s pyramid is food. We are hardwired to want to seek out nourishment. Rule 20 focuses on this need:

Rule #20 - Share meals with your team on a regular basis. 

Some may be puzzling a bit as to why this is amongst the thirty critical lessons of leadership. It becomes obvious as soon as you think about it for a bit. As Maslow pointed out, people are hardwired to make sure they have enough to eat. In addition, we evolved to work together as groups. There was the hunting and gathering that took place, followed by the feast. With our bellies full, we relaxed for just a moment prior to having to refocus on the next threat that needed to be overcome. The ones among the tribe who hunted or gathered the best were the most valuable to the tribe. They held a special place as providers.

If you don't buy into my evolutionary rational, you'd be hard pressed to disagree that the simple act of providing food for another is appreciated in all cultures. Regardless of the religion you follow, there's almost certainly a special place reserved for dining as a group. So, if we have an act (to eat together) that individuals are hardwired to pursue and that is widely appreciated across cultures, doesn't it make sense to participate?

For those of you that still doubt the importance of dining and relationships, let me offer three instances for your consideration.

  • First, let's consider the concept of "executive dining rooms." These are those special places where the top managers go for their meals—that place where they get special treatment. Not familiar with these? Good! At one time they were extremely prevalent; however, corporations eliminated them when they realized they were creating a chasm in the workplace.
  • Second, consider the last time you had a really important client in to visit for the day. Did you take him/her out to dinner? Did it help you to connect? Did they appreciate it? There's a reason that you sit down for dinner together the day before a big meeting—and it's not to get nourishment!
  • Finally, when you were in the early stages of your relationship with your spouse, did you take him/her to dinner? Was it fun? Appreciated? Do they still appreciate you taking them to dinner after 25 years of marriage?

All of the questions above are rhetorical. You know that dining with others is appreciated. You just may not have thought about how important it is to dine with your team specifically. By taking the time to stop work, sit down with one or more of your team, and enjoy a meal together, you're doing multiple things simultaneously:

  • You're giving them your time—the most precious thing you have to give.
  • You're acknowledging a form of commonality. While you all have different roles, you all must eat. You're all human.
  • You're literally becoming their equal by sitting down at the table. You're all at the same level. A word or caution here, avoid the "head of the table" as it sends the tacit message that you're in a power position.
  • You're providing them with the opportunity to talk to you. Feedback from your team is priceless!
  • You're showing another side of you. When you're dining, the other aspects of your life will come through.
  • You're showing them that it's OK to step away from work for a bit and focus on other aspects of life.

The action item for this step involves taking your team to lunch on a regular basis. While they will appreciate the act immensely, there's an even bigger benefit from taking them to lunch. Taking them to lunch allows you to give them a form of a gift. And there's a reason the age-old adage is that "it is better to give than receive."


ACTION ITEM 20 - Schedule a lunch for your entire team. Repeat at least one time every quarter.


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