Circle of Safety

Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle has served as the headwaters from which highly inspired individuals have articulated their purpose and launched ambitious expeditions.  I recently attended a session with Simon in New York City to gain insight into the next chapter.  Simon previewed the Circle of Safety.  The concept was simple to grasp and highly applicable.

The Circle of Safety has a strong overlap with Seth Godin’s philosophy of Tribes.  A fundamental driving force for humans over time is the need to survive which generates a need for safety.  In the caveman era, those who got the most to eat were expected to be the first and most potent line of defense when danger appeared and threatened the welfare of the collective.  In exchange for the prime position after the hunt, the strongest and biggest were charged with the survival of the entire group.  It was part of the leadership agreement.

We see this same dynamic on a daily basis.  We interact with people who provide a Circle of Safety for us or test our circle.  Southwest Airlines is an ideal illustration.  They have intentionally created a Circle of Safety for their employees, inclusive of the gate agents and luggage handlers.  These individuals are in the circle and therefore can execute their best work.  Try a legacy airline where many a gate agent is left to protect their job and therefore is left to survive each encounter.  Southwest would rather have a disappointed customer patronize another airline before they disrupt the Circle of Safety for their employees.  Simon’s refrain is that the strongest organizations protect the people on the edges, not just those in the executive suite.

If we are hoping to inspire others, we must offer a secure place from which to feel human and facilitate genuine interactions.  If the employees are authentic then customers feel safe to interact with each other.  Notice the social candor during the Southwest boarding process versus a legacy carrier.  Southwest passengers actually talk with each other and smile.  Rare is the same experience on other domestic airlines, unless the journey has become so fraught with obstacles that passengers are placed in survival mode and start forming temporary Circles of Safety to overcome that which threatens them.  If we wish for members of our tribe to go forth and act as ambassadors, advocates, or even askers, we must provide a safe place from which they can launch their journey.  Transformational acts come when we feel powerful and want to leverage this privelaged opportunity to help others.  

How big is the Circle of Safety in your enterprise?  Does it extend to the edges or is there an inner court?  What would your members, volunteers, and customers say?  What is the most inspiring or innovative act a member of the tribe has performed on behalf of the cause?  Have they deconstructed what allowed them to undertake such a quest?  As social animals the greatest bond in conceiving a human Circle of Safety is our ability to provide for others.  If we wish to do our best work we must have a mindset that is more expansive than just surviving.

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