In September, 2009, at an independently organized TED event, Simon Sinek gave an 18-minute talk explaining how great leaders inspire others to take action. The sound quality of this video was not very good. Simon did not speak as well as he normally does. Nevertheless, that talk has become the 2nd most viewed video in the history of the TED website, with over 15 million views as of this writing.
The video is shared so often largely because Simon offered a simple, actionable idea: by clearly communicating why we do what we do, we are able to reach the part of people's brains where decisions are actually made. The simple act of clarifying our WHY and communicating our WHY clearly to others has a significant impact on personal success, marketing success, and leadership success.
As a result of the power of this idea of starting with WHY, and the subsequent popularity of his TEDTalk, Simon has spent the last few years speaking to leaders of all types of organizations including numerous companies, the U.S. military, the U.S. Congress, and even the United Nations.
During this time, he noticed an interesting trend. Organizations that have people who work very effectively as teams have drastically different cultures than do organizations where people tend not to cooperate very much. The organizations with strong cultures have leaders who focus on putting the needs of their people above their own. As Simon writes in the title of his new book: leaders eat last.
I recently read Leaders Eat Last and had a chance to interview Simon to ask him about the book and the key concepts within it. Below is a brief summary of the book and the interview with Simon. (You can watch the interview here if you like).
Simon has met many great leaders, people who we would call "heroes", over the past few years. A good number of those people are members of the U.S. military. Initially he assumed that these people were great because of some inherent personal trait.
However, when Simon asked these people why they would act with such heroism, putting their lives at risk to help others, the response was typically, "Because they would do it for me."
Simon hypothesized that it's not great people who necessarily become heroes. Heroic people are simply members of organizations that have a very high level of mutual trust.
Leaders Eat Last is a fascinating book that includes inspiring case studies, intriguing research, and the biological and anthropological explanations for why the most successful organizations over the long-term are those that create a strong Circle of Safety.
Simon points out how the principle cause of failure among organizations is the tendency to focus more on numbers and short-term results than we do on people. When numbers are prioritized over people, the result is an organization where people simply don't feel safe inside the organization. If people don't feel safe inside the organization, they can't possibly work together to face all of the never-ending challenges that come from outside of the organization.
However, when people feel safe inside the organization -- when there is a strong Circle of Safety -- people work together in amazing ways to create long-term success.
Simon offers both simple and complex examples of the effects of either having or lacking a strong Circle of Safety, which makes the book highly practical at times and very thought-provoking at others. He also offers a range of actionable ideas for creating a more successful organization, with a stronger Circle of Safety, whether we have an official leadership position or not.
Perhaps the simplest and most easily-actionable idea is to take the initiative to care more for the people on our team. By simply making the effort to help the people on our team more often, and show them that we truly care about them, we can start the process of creating an entire team or organization of people who trust each other. This not only makes the team or organization significantly more effective, it also transforms work from something we may dread into something we wake up excited about.