Simon Sinek: Why good leaders make you feel safe


Simon Sinek – Simon is author of “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action”


Simon starts by discussing a medal of honour recipient – a military man who charged into fire to pull wounded soldiers into a helicopter. In the military we give medals to people willing to sacrifice themselves to help others. However, in business we give bonuses to people who sacrifice others to help ourselves. In talking to heroic soldiers about why they made a sacrifice for someone else, they all said that the other guy would have done the same thing – there is a deep trust in the military. It is hard to build this trust in the office environment.

In humanity’s ancient history, danger was everywhere and the tribe needed to trust each other to stay safe. In modern times, a business has dangers – competitors cutting their market share, new technology that will make the business model obsolete. However, if individual employees do not trust their leadership, they end up spending their own time fighting each other or fighting their leaders for safety and security. For example – enforcing arbitrary and confusing rules at an airline check in counter because if they don’t do this, they think they will lose their job. If people feel safe, they can focus on actually tackling external threats and delivering good customer service.

In business, we need to think of leaders as parents. To discipline, nurture, educate, and challenge their employees to build their confidence, take risks and allow them to achieve on their own. In return, they need to trust that a leader will not lay them off when times are tough – you would not lay off a child because the economy changes. This is what offends people about exorbitant CEO salaries in underperforming companies – the feeling that they have sacrificed people to protect their company’s numbers (and their own salary).

An example of alternative leadership – a manufacturing company suffered 30% loss of sales during 2008 and their labour pool was overspending by $10million. When the board asked for layoffs, the CEO refused and instead gave every employee (including himself) 4 weeks of compulsory unpaid leave to be taken any time they chose over the year. He told the employees it was better for everyone to suffer a little, rather than a few suffer a lot. They saved $20million, and morale was up. As they trusted each other, some employees started trading leave – taking 5 so another would take only 3.

Leaders should take the risks first, they should eat last, they should sacrifice so their people feel safe, and so that their people can gain. When they do this, the natural response of their people is that they trust, and are willing to sacrifice for the good of the leader’s vision. And then they can say that they did what they did because their leader would have done the same for them.

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