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.

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action

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

Length: 18:34


What gives the great leaders their edge? Why were Martin Luther King, Wright Brothers, & Steve Jobs successful when others have access to similar resources and conditions? The thing these leaders have in common is summarised in the ‘Golden Circle’.

  1. What – every organisation should know this
  2. How – some know this – their differentiating values, or intellectual property
  3. Why – only the best know this – why their organisation exists beyond a profit

The best organisations can explain and sell the ‘why’ first, and use this to inspire others. People don’t buy what you do, but why you do it. Using Apple as an example, their sales statements starts with their “why” – they design differently to push the boundary. Once you accept their why, you trust them to build anything for you – a computer, an MP3 player, phone. Other quality electronics companies known for 1 product (eg Dell computers) struggle to sell anything else, because they are only known for what they make not why.

The most central parts of the brain control behaviour – this is what people speak to when they answer ‘why’. Answering ‘what’ deals with fact, figures, but still might not feel right on gut feeling.

Simon gives the example of the Wright brothers against Samuel Pierpont Langley. Samuel had all the usually be the recipes to success on his side – money, market conditions, and a well educated and connected team. But while Samuel was driven by wealth and power, the Wright brother’s team were motivated by the idea of changing the course of history with powered flight. The Wright brothers achieved flight first, and Samuel immediately quit once the goal of being first was out of reach.

Different people are comfortable to adopt new technology at different times. The early adopters take up the first 15-18%, with the mainstream being the next 68%. The mainstream need the early adopters to try it first, on gut instinct. This makes hitting 20% market share vital – hitting the tipping point where the mainstream will start to take up quickly. Early adopters are sold everything on the ‘why’ – they will adopt a poor quality product if they like the idea behind it.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.