When I was asked to interview Simon Sinek in late 2013 for Insigniam Quarterly, it was just before his book Leaders Eat Last was published. Listening to him describe the ideas from the book (as well as theories presented in Start With Why) was incredibly inspiring.
During our conversation, Sinek discussed how leaders can harness the natural set points of their team to foster cooperation. Specifically, that when they promote an environment of safety, their employees flourish.
He used the example of an airline attendant who feels empowered to make the right decision for the customer. Instead of, "Sorry sir, I have to follow the rules, or I'll lose my job," they're able to evaluate the situation at hand and make common-sense decisions that improve the customer experience -- and trust that management will back them up. I love it when I see customer service people with the bandwidth to resolve issues on their own, and conversely, I try not to take it personally when they don't.
The Leadership Pact
"We're very comfortable giving alphas more resources," Sinek said. In nature, that would be food, choice of mate, resources, etc. In the modern world, that translates to salary, esteem, a nicer car and a bigger office. This deference is given as part of an unwritten contract, however, that says when danger arrives, the alpha will protect those weaker than him/her, even sacrificing himself/herself if needed. "The most innovative organizations... almost always have a leader who would sacrifice himself/herself to save their people rather than their numbers," he explained. And their employees know that. This is what creates a sense of trust and shared purpose.
Even if you don't have a management position, you can demonstrate leadership in your circles of influence.
That concept was crystallized recently during a back-to-school presentation given by my kids' middle school principal. In explaining her role in the administration, she said: "My job is to feed the teachers, so they don't eat the children." It got a lot of laughs, but it also underscored where her focus is. As a parent, I'm happy to "feed" my kids' teachers as well. Where can you exert influence to create an atmosphere of safety and trust to foster innovation?