On Friday 3 March I attended the Start With Why Leadership Forum headlined by Simon Sinek. I’ve prepared a brief summary of my insights from this.
For those who have not heard of Simon, he is one of the thinkers and speakers of the moment, having been made famous by some TED talks. I’ve provided links below to two of his best known talks.
Start with why – how great leaders inspire action (18 minutes) Start with why
Simon Sinek on Millennials and Internet Addiction (22 minutes) Millennials
Quite a bit of Simon’s thinking has its roots in human biology. He is an engaging speaker and here are my insights.
A key responsibility of a leader is to make the team feel safe
Trust and cooperation are feelings and are natural feelings or human reactions when we feel safe. It is up to the leader to create a safe environment. Simon calls this the circle of safety and gave the example of a barista he met who worked in two different casinos in Vegas. In the first casino the barista was amazing – because he felt safe. At the second casino Simon couldn’t believe it was the same guy – he behaved totally differently because he did not feel safe. Simon quoted Southwest Airlines in the USA as an organisation that gets this right.
Simon also quoted Jim Collins (although he did not mention him by name.) Collins is famous for his analogy that in business we need to have the right people on the bus. Simon’s view was that the bus has to be a safe place to be before you can get the right people on it.
- Yes, values should be defined in a business.
- There should be less than five of them
- Use verbs not nouns e.g.. “Do the right thing” instead of “integrity”
- Have a peer recognition program that allows team members to nominate each other for living the values
- If you have to have honesty as one of your values you’ve got issues!
Dopamine, Serotonin, To Do Lists and Metrics
Dopamine is a naturally occurring chemical in our body and its creation/release is triggered by things such as achieving a goal or progress towards a goal. This is why being able to cross something off a to do list works – it gives us a hit of Dopamine! Similarly if we have metrics in place in our business to measure progress towards goals and we achieve a metric we get another hit. Win a new client, get a Dopamine hit. Hit the lodgement target, get another hit. And the great thing is that it allows us to stay focused. It does have a dark side in that it can be addictive so we see issues with things like gambling, alcohol, mobile phones etc. In business the desire for Dopamine can go too far – for example some investment banks have cultures that support or even encourage a Dopamine addiction. “Success” at any price is not really success.
Enter Serotonin. This naturally occurring chemical is associated with pride and status. With recognition in the tribe. It’s associated with self confidence. So in business if we get recognised by our peers or our leaders we feel good, courtesy of Serotonin. It underpins the notion that leadership is not about being in charge but about looking after the people in our charge. And surprise surprise, leadership is hard work, often thankless and risky.
Oxytocin and modelling behaviour
I know this is starting to sound a bit like a chemistry lecture, but Simon also introduced us to Oxytocin. This naturally generated chemical is why we like being with friends. Also from doing or seeing an act of human kindness. And from human touch. Being near friends makes us feel safe and this in turn gives rise to feelings of trust and cooperation. Oxytocin incentivises us to look after each other and is why modelling behaviour is so important.
Another key observation Simon made as part of this discussion was that consistency trumps intensity every time. He gave the simple example of brushing your teeth. If you go hard for a week that is intensity and that is useful…up to a point. But if you brush your teeth for a week then never again you get a very different result to if you brushed your teeth twice a day every day of your life. In accounting firms I often see burst of energy or action in firms which are not sustained over time – they lack consistency.
- Great leaders bestow trust and responsibility.
- A huge part of leadership is empathy.
- Value is about how it is perceived by the receiver, so listening is important.
- Helping others is the final step in Alcoholics Anonymous for a reason.
- Vision without execution is hallucination.
- As a leader you are responsible for the people and the people are responsible for your clients. )This is consistent with Richard Branson’s often quoted view.)