Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe: TED Talk by Simon Sinek

What makes a great leader? Management theorist Simon Sinek suggests that it’s someone who makes their employees feel secure — who draws staffers into a “circle of trust.”

Sinek opens his TED Talk with a story about Congressional Medal of Honor winner Captain William Swenson who, while in Afghanistan, ran into live fire to rescue wounded soldiers and pull out the dead. After helping one soldier into a medevac helicopter, the captain bent over and gave him a kiss before returning to rescue others.

It made a tremendous impact on Sinek who asked himself the question, “Where do people like this come from?” His first thought was, “They are just better people,” but he soon proved himself wrong.

The author of Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Sinek discovered that it is the environment. “If you get the environment right, every single one of us has the capacity to do these wonderful things.” Sinek talked with many folks who we would call heroes and asked each one the question, “Why would you do that?” The answer: “Because they would have done it for me.”

Trust and cooperation are front and center for this kind of environment to exist. However, trust is a feeling and we can’t just tell people to trust us, to cooperate and to follow us.

Sinek goes on to explain that we have evolved into social animals from the days of the Paleolithic era to the early days of Homo sapiens when we lived and worked together in what he calls a “circle of safety.” It was inside the tribe, where we felt like we belonged. And when we felt safe amongst our own, the natural reaction was trust and cooperation.

The same is true today in a world that is filled with danger — where there are things that frustrate our lives or reduce our opportunity for success.

The only variables are the conditions inside the organization, and that’s where leadership matters, because it’s the leader who sets the tone. When leaders make the choice to put the safety and lives of the people inside the organization first, to sacrifice their own comforts and to sacrifice the tangible results so that people feel safe and know they belong, remarkable things happen.

Adds Sinek, “When we feel safe inside the organization, we will naturally combine our talents, our strengths and work tirelessly to face external dangers and seize opportunities for success.”

When leaders choose to sacrifice so that their people may be safe and protected, Sinek believes that the natural response is that, “They will give us their blood and sweat and tears to see that their leader’s vision comes to life. When we ask them, ‘Why would you do that? Why would you give your blood and sweat and tears for that person?’ they all say the same thing: ‘Because they would have done it for me.’ And isn’t that the organization we would all like to work in?”

I encourage you to check out Simon Sinek’s TED Talk.

I also encourage you to read a blog I wrote several years ago about “personal trust.” It is a topic that I think is vital to establishing and sustaining relationships of all kinds.

Attitude Is Everything!

During the past several weeks, I have experienced a heightened awareness of the powerful impact of attitude in my life as well as that of others. I have felt uplifted and grateful for the positive and encouraging attitudes of those dealing with life-changing challenges and disheartened by the negative and pessimistic attitudes of others.

Attitude is a state of mind, a way of thinking that is reflected in our behavior. We make critical choices about how to think about people, challenges and situations. When we have intense thoughts and feelings about something or someone — whether negative or positive — our attitude often “speaks” louder than our words.

This is why, when you feel hurt by or angry with someone, that person will most likely perceive your attitude whether you address the issue or not. You may think that you’re hiding your feelings, but non-verbal behaviors usually communicate our emotions more powerfully than spoken words. You may conceal your true feelings for a while, but not over time.

Conversely, a positive attitude and its non-verbal cues can communicate volumes about high regard, caring, affection, happiness, encouragement and resilience. No surprise that positive attitudes can be contagious and attract us to each other while negative attitudes can distance and shut us down from each other.

Psychologist Carol Dweck comments in her latest study about attitude and performance, “your attitude is a better predictor of your success than your IQ. Failure is information — we label it failure, but it’s more like, ‘This didn’t work, and I’m a problem-solver, so I’ll try something else.’”

Consider adopting a positive attitude:

  • Make a choice to think positively about someone or something. Realize that your attitude may be contagious.
  • Adopt an optimistic attitude about a person or situation, take action, then notice the impact you make.
  • Give someone the benefit of the doubt. It may result in a surprisingly positive outcome.
  • Demonstrate an attitude of curiosity and openness rather than challenging and resistant. What’s the payoff for judging something before facts are known?
  • Decide to approach uncertainty with openness and optimism instead of defensiveness or fear. Discover and learn before criticizing or judging.
  • Make a choice to engage and participate rather than to withdraw or abstain. Your experience will be more constructive.

Remember that many things happen in life over which we have no control. What matters most is how we handle ourselves and the meaning we attribute to the situation — how we feel and what we think about it.

Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, describes experiences in the concentration camp that show that man does have a choice of action and independence of mind. They offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: “The last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”