“Check Please”: The Art of Building Relationships Over A Meal

After completing “Start With Why” and “Leaders Eat Last”, I figured I’d take a break from leadership philosophy books and choose one for personal enrichment… more specifically, how to improve and maintain personal relationships. I’ve always thought the concepts behind the “5 Love Languages” was pretty interesting, so I downloaded Dr. Chapman’s book and started listening to it.

The idea that this wouldn’t be a book that impacted my leadership outlook was a facility.; the study of how relationships work and how people feel appreciated seems to be a pretty fundamental part of being a good leader.  After a few causal lunch outings recently, I started to formulate how a lunch could be used to build professional relationships.

“Check Please”: The Art of Building Relationships Over A Meal

Based upon the last two readings by Sinek, it seems that many companies lack communication, which creates a lack of relationships, leading to a lack of trust and security. To improve this, a potential solution might be for a supervisor make it a point to plan lunch with one or two employees a week that they oversee.

It isn’t a date, so don’t make the location anywhere too fancy, but something a little better than fast food. And just have a conversation. Listen to their ideas, learn about them, and don’t be too guarded about yourself.

Listen sympathetically, drawing them out by asking questions with a genuine desire to understand their thoughts, feelings, and hopes. The conversation doesn’t have to be about work, however if they skew that way, the objective is to understand, so resist the temptation to interrupt of defend yourself… perhaps they need to vent.

Pay attention to them, not looking around the room or checking your phone every 5 minutes. If you get an e-mail that you absolutely have to respond to immediately, let them know “My apologies, I want to give you my undivided attention, please give me 3 minutes to respond to this e-mail.”

At the end of the meal, thank them for their time, let them know that they have been heard and that, although you may not be able to do anything about their ideas immediately, you appreciate their input and will follow up with them if it develops into anything. Just before the end of the meal, let them know one thing you appreciate about them and their work. Be genuine, not a canned response, and something that shows you either listened to them or are familiar and appreciative with their efforts.

Why it (hypothetically) works:

This interaction hits on 4 of the 5 established love languages (excluding touch… let’s not make things weird). In a business scenario, substitute appreciation for love.

Quality Time – By spending time with them one-on-one and being actively engaged, they’ll feel appreciated.

Act of Service – The act of wanting to hear them voice their opinions and learn about them serves as an act of service. If it’s appropriate to offer them a ride to drive over together, it takes this concept one step further.

Gift – Although a minor investment, the gesture of buying their meal is a perceived as a gift. It seems slightly cheapened if it’s done so on the company card rather than out of pocket, however honestly, it’s unlikely anyone will really notice the difference.

Words of Affirmation – That little bit at the end will have them returning to work feeling on Cloud 9. Encouraging words is one of the cheapest investments for morale.

The book states that “Relationships are not a project to be completed or a problem to be solved”. By exercising this method, even just investing 1 hour a week in it, you might be surprised at the impact it could have on the culture of your company. Not only might you learn about new ideas, employee ambitions, or hidden talents, however you might inspire others to encourage their staff or find themselves collaborating more through similar tactics.

If you try it, let me know how it goes!


So the last will be first…

Immediately following the completion of Sinek’s “Start With Why”, I moved on to his follow up book “Leaders Eat Last”.  Based on the title, I had the assumption that it might have some religious affiliation, but it actually refers to a leadership practice common in the Marines.  It cites the idea that in the military, metals are given to those who are willing to sacrifice themselves so that others may gain, whereas in businesses, most often bonuses are given to people who are willing to sacrifice others so that we may gain.  This not only refers to earnings, but also to credit, social capital, etc.


“Leaders Eat Last” takes a biological look at the primal and anthropological elements that make leaders effective.  By examining the cause and effects of the body’s release of chemicals such as endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and cortisal, the book offers neurological insights on how leaders can impact their followers (for better or for worse).


Summerized versions of the book are available in a number of online lectures, one of which I pulled this quote from:


“When we are surrounded by people who have our best interest in mind and we feel safe, we’ll organize ourselves and cooperate to face the dangers externally.  External dangers are a constant, but internal dangers are a variable.  They are a result of leadership; as to how safe they make us feel when we go to work.  When leaders don’t offer safety, we’re forced to protect ourselves from each other, exposing the group to larger dangers from the outside.  If you have to worry about politics, if you have to worry about someone stealing your credit, if you have to worry about your boss not having your back, think about the energy you invest not in your business, not in the products that you are trying to develop, not in your work, not in your creativity, but just in keeping yourself feeling safe.”


The teachings suggest that two of the largest responsibilities are to determine who is allowed to join the group/business (do they share the same values and beliefs, etc.) and how big the circle of safety is.  Many organizations are prone to create a circle of safety around the people at the top, actively creating an “us and them” feeling to protect their “inner circle”.  Great leaders make sure that protect extends to the outer most edges, creating a feeling of safety for everyone within the organization.


A few other key takeaways from “Leaders Eat Last”:


The author suggests that millineals don’t suffer from entitlement as much as they are distracted and impatient.  The idea of working 20+ years within an organization to reach a position where their opinion is impactful doesn’t necessarily mesh with the instant gratification era that we’ve been brought up in with so much access to technology and other resources.


Getting notifications, likes, and e-mails makes us feel good because the body produces tiny amounts of dopamine… the same chemical that is produced by gambling, alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs.  And it’s addicting.  Alcoholics often site that if you wake up in the morning and the first thing you need is a drink, you might be an addict.  If you wake up in the morning and the first thing you do is check your Facebook or e-mail?  Well… you get the idea.


The book also discusses the value of investing time and energy rather than money into personal relationships.  Whereas money comes and goes, time and energy are at a premium because they are an equal commodity among all people, and it’s one that can never be recovered.  The book provides the example that if you are moving and you have one friend who writes a check to pay for the moving truck and one who shows up to help pack and move boxes, should both need a favor on the same day, which are you more likely to prioritize?  More than likely, the one who invested their time and energy.  Unfortunately we can’t give our time and energy to everyone, so it’s important as a leader to make sure that you can create relationships and trust the people who you lead, encouraging them to create relationships and trust the people they lead, and so on and so forth.

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