When I heard that Simon Sinek was giving a talk in London a couple of months back, I made sure I was there. He’s something of a star on the motivational speaking circuit. With more than 27.9m views, his talk on TED.com is the third most watched of all time. Seeing him first hand, it was easy to see why. He was generous with his time and made the talk as much – if not more – about the audience as it was about himself (he spoke for 10 minutes and took questions for 50). Topics ranged from the nature of good leadership to the power of social media but the subject matter was arguably secondary to the level of inspiration he instilled in everybody who was there that evening.
His message was that with a clear understanding of why you’re doing what you’re doing in life there’s no need to pay any heed to the doubters. Yes, we will have to work hard to achieve results, and sometimes progress will be slow, but everyone can make a difference. He emphasised that we can change things, achieve something remarkable, improve our lives and those of everyone around us – and that many people already are. I walked out feeling 10 feet tall.
The talk was a tremendous opportunity to understand the philosophy of someone I have respected for many years. Sinek’s publication ‘Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action’, in 2009 is a best seller and has inspired many business owners including me. When Anthony and I were rethinking our business, we took on board his approach, figuring out our ‘why’, which is to provide great financial planning that changes people’s lives. By completely committing ourselves to this new philosophy, we won four major awards and increased our profit and turnover in just 12 months. You can read more about this in Anthony’s post: First Wealth’s Why Day: Golden Circle.
His second book, ‘Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t’, contains some similarly powerful ideas. To emphasise the importance of strong leaders, the book looks to what we as humans existing in tribes thousands of years ago would have sought in our alphas, and explains that the same rules apply now. We are willing to appoint and defer to leaders in our society and we give them the status and the respect they seek but we expect them to keep up their part of the bargain in return. However, as Sinek says, “it is this part of the equation that is too often forgotten in our organisations today.. when the group faces a threat from the outside we expect the leader..to be the first one to rush toward the danger to protect the rest of us. The problem is, for many of the overpaid leaders, we know that they took the money and perks and didn’t offer protection to their people. In some cases, they even sacrificed their people to protect or boost their own interests.” Becoming a successful leader is a long-term endeavour and the relatively brief span of the average CEO’s tenure can breed a short-term approach which only serves their immediate, self-preserving interests.
The Recipe for Leadership Success
The book tackles the conundrum of how we can create a work environment where employees feel supported and protected to make the big decisions that will help the business to thrive. It’s all about building a ‘Circle of Safety’. All businesses face challenges, be it from competitors, the ups and downs of the global markets or from other operational factors like gauging capacity and meeting and maintaining standards. However, there can also be threats to employees from inside the company. Internal competition, the fear of being made redundant, the poisonous effects of office politics – all are felt keenly by the average employee.
For Sinek, the aim of every good leader should be to bring these internal threats under control, to give employees a sense of belonging and offer them a strong value-based culture. They should have the power to make decisions in an environment based on trust and empathy, and the business will see the benefits: “By creating a Circle of Safety around the people in the organisation, leadership reduces the threats people feel inside the group, which frees them up to focus more time and energy to protect the organisation from the constant dangers outside and seize the big opportunities. Without a Circle of Safety, people are forced to spend too much time and energy protecting themselves from each other… Only when we feel we are in a Circle of Safety will we pull together as a unified team, better able to survive and thrive regardless of the conditions outside.”
A sense of belonging and feeling valued and trusted are important to us, and the organisation that fosters these feelings will see the results. Greater collaboration and innovation, a freedom to dream big and share intelligence and ideas benefits businesses so much more effectively than when employees are constantly looking over their shoulder or fighting internal battles.
Sinek also highlights a study undertaken in the UK which explodes the myth that with high rank comes the highest burden of stress. Rather than the demands of the job, it was the degree of control workers feel they have over their working day which was the biggest determinant of their stress levels: “Put simply: less control, more stress.” So, a sense of autonomy is also vital, instilling in staff a belief that they are the masters of their own daily destiny.
The First Wealth Family
‘Leaders Eat Last…’ is full of eloquently argued points about the habits successful leaders need to adopt to build a high-performing team. I’ve touched on a few of them above but I’d like to end on one of the points which particularly appealed to me, and which I think sums up the whole philosophy perfectly. In explaining that good leadership is about a focus on the people and culture and not just the numbers Sinek notes that “Every single employee is someone’s son or someone’s daughter. Being a leader is like being a parent, and the company is like a new family to join.” He adds that “letting someone into an organisation is like adopting a child” and goes on to quote a successful CEO who is as hurt by the prospect of making staff redundant as he would be by losing a family member: “We would never dream of getting rid of one of our children in hard times.” As a Dad of three, I can relate to this. Leadership is just like parenting, where your duty is to provide care and nurturing and you get out what you put in. We’ve recently taken on a number of new staff who share our beliefs and who we know we can trust to become part of the First Wealth family.
Thinking back to Simon Sinek’s talk, the challenge for all leaders is to keep mindful of the ‘why’ at all times. For us at First Wealth, this means continuing to motivate our team while giving them the freedom and support to make decisions and to develop their collaborative and innovative instincts. Only by committing to this will we ensure that we’re on course to achieve the First Wealth ‘why’ of providing great financial planning that changes people’s lives.
If you would like some help in managing your investments or planning your ideal financial lifestyle, please do get in touch.