Advance Performance | Leadership Lessons from Simon Sinek
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Leadership Lessons from Simon Sinek

Leadership Lessons from Simon Sinek

“I imagine a world where people wake up every day inspired to go to work and return home at the end of the day feeling fulfilled by the work they do, feeling that they have contributed to something greater than themselves.”

Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek is fascinated by the leaders and companies that make the greatest impact in their organisations and in the world – those with the capacity to inspire.

Sinek’s renowned TED talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action is the website’s third most watched video of all time. He explains how inspirational and great leaders think differently from the rest of us, and how these leaders inspire people to follow and believe in them and their businesses. The Golden Circle of Why, How, What described by Sinek is reflective of Advance’s Tree model.

“It doesn’t matter what you do, it matters Why you do it….people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Sinek explains the influence of Steve Jobs and Apple. Products made by a company are just WHAT they do, however, people believe in Apple because everything Apple did under the leadership of Steve Jobs felt authentic and reflected their reason to exist – the WHY of the leader and company. Regardless of their products or the industry they operate in, Apple has always made it clear it “thinks different”. We know Apple is a brand and has a culture developed by a leader who had a belief to think differently and challenge the status quo.

“Great leaders and great organisations are good at seeing what most of us can’t see.  They are good at giving us things we would never think of asking for.”

In his bestselling book “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action”,  Sinek cites Henry Ford who invented the modern factory system to improve production.  He improved the auto industry and made people believe that the car was an item ordinary people could want and buy. If Ford had asked people at the time, they would have said they needed faster horses because they hadn’t yet experienced the car.

“In the military they give medals to people who are willing to sacrifice themselves so that others may gain.  In business we give bonuses to people who sacrifice others so that we may gain. We have it backwards.”

In his book Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Leaders Pull Together and Others Don’t and talk “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe”, Sinek looks at great leaders who are willing to sacrifice themselves, to protect their circle of followers.

A pilot, “Johnny Bravo” in Afghanistan, who swerved his plane down into a valley to protect 21 men and allow them to escape from the insurgency. When asked why he put his life at risk to save his men, the leader of the operation Johnny Bravo said “Because they would have done it for me”.

In his book, Sinek explains how this type of leadership and the willingness to sacrifice forms a circle of safety for the followers.  In business, this sacrifice could be giving up a bonus, giving up holidays, taking responsibility for any problems and providing high level insurance cover for employees.

“When we are surrounded by people who have our best interests in mind and make us feel safe, we will organise ourselves and cooperate to face the dangers we face externally.”

He explains how great leaders make us feel a part of safe circle – Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines – all provided this safe circle for employees or followers who are part of a safe culture where they feel they belong. They can share this with customers, protecting against competition and thus enabling the company to reach its potential.

If a leader of a company doesn’t provide this circle of safety, people are thinking only of themselves, creating office politics and infighting which makes the whole company vulnerable.  If you are fearful in your job, you cannot be the best representative of the company promoting it to potential customers, and why would you?

Leaders are the ones who give us their time and give us their energy, not the ones who give us their money.”

Sinek supports his argument with the biological evidence explaining the importance of the physical release of oxytocin which occurs when we build relationships with people, give generously and give time. When we give money we get a blast of dopamine – which also occurs with different addictions.  However, when someone gives time and energy this not only boosts the giver’s oxytocin, it also boosts the receiver’s oxytocin and even witnesses’ oxytocin. This warm, feel good hormone boosts our wellbeing, inhibits cortisol and strengthens our immune system. No wonder, when employees are in this Circle of Safety at inspirational organisations, they feel good about themselves!

Sinek also explains the twelfth step of AA – Commit to helping another alcoholic.  If you can give your time and energy to help another, you too can be a leader.

Leadership is not a rank, leadership is not a position, leadership is a choice.  It has nothing to do with your position in the organisation.  If you decide to look after the person to the left of you, and you decide to look after the person to the right of you, you have become a leader.”

To find out more about Simon Sinek and find out about his future talks see his official website.