Simon Sinek

Who Is In Your Circle?

Circle of Safety which highlighted the more compelling remarks made during a session I attended with Simon Sinek in New York City was my most read blog post in 2013.  I am thrilled that Simon’s newest book titled, Leaders Eat Last is due to be released on January 7th.  The book expands upon the brief overview I wrote up and introduces a network of associated ideas.  I have been reading the book and it explores inspired observations about creating a culture of trust and empathy.  I highly recommend adding Leader Eat Last to your 2014 reading list.  As written at the end of the book, “If this book inspired you, please pass it on to someone you want to inspire.”

The 12th Step

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Addiction programs of note have 12 steps to recovery.   Individuals who complete 11 of 12 steps have a higher likelihood to lapse back into their addictive behavior than those who complete all the steps.  Said differently, individuals who make it 90% of the way stumble far more than those who go one level further.  What makes the 12th step so powerful?  The 12th step is a commitment to mentor another person who has suffered from the addiction.  The act of giving ourselves in the service of others has a profound and lasting impact.

If a friend tells you they donated $1,000 to a charity it may be impressive but it might not be a transformational act.  If your friend told you they gave their Saturday to refurbish a charity’s program center, we are inspired.  The commitment of our time and expertise has more of a far-reaching impact than the investment of capital.  The act of donating our time is valued more than our treasure.  If we offer our time in the service of others it inspires and builds a committed tribe.

* Another post from a day with Simon Sinek in New York City.

The Cirlce of Safety and Profits

A case study to further illuminate the Circle of Safety.  I read an article by David Auerbach, a former Microsoft manager who discussed the pitfalls of the employee “stack” ranking system.  The stack predated Steve Balmer’s tenure as CEO but was continued as a core assessment process.  Mr. Auerbach recounted the fate of employees who were placed in a series of performance buckets on a scale of excellent to awful.  The rankings sealed the employee’s future career path at Microsoft and was the basis from which bonus schedules were calculated.  The manager’s job was to advocate for their best employees and allow the lower performers to drop as far as necessary in the rankings while maintaining negotiating power for employees they preferred.  This process was the antithesis of the Circle of Safety.  The stack does not promote human interactions and germinates distrust and secrecy.  The Circle of Safety does not avoid employee firings but it reflects on the impact to the community with a more thoughtful and humane approach to help those who may not be able to maximize their talents.

General Electric was the classic model of a company that would let go of the bottom 20% of its employees on an annual basis.  If you did not perform, you did not stay.  This created a very competitive environment but also one in which trust, innovation, and risk were not worth building.  Contrast this with Costco, a company that pays a living wage and invests in its people.  The Circle of Safety extends to the edges.  The investment community would suggest that GE practices the hard-hitting principles that make for strong quarterly results.  However, Costco has actually outperformed GE over long-run (see chart below), providing a blueprint that treating the employees as something other than a commodity is possible and prosperous.

Costco vs GE

A key attribute of an enterprise that embraces the Circle of Safety is that it does not make employment decisions based on a balance sheet.  Instead a Circle of Safety organizations think first about what is best for the community and then secures the resources to support the community.

* A continuation from the Day with Simon Sinek

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.

Numbers Will Never Love You, People Will

Simon Sinek has had a profound impact on why I do what I do.  I share his Start With Why philosophy every chance I get because I believe what he believes.  The greatest transformation is understanding that once an inspired individual is connected to their best ideas, the people and cultures they impact will create waves of change that ripple to distant shores.  If we connect with people that inspire us we will go to great lengths to help them succeed.

Sleuthing and the Golden Circle

Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle

I had the pleasure to present to a class of students working in or preparing to join the nonprofit sector.  A question was posed about how to understand an organization’s “why” if the nonprofit cannot articulate their belief.  After providing my best on the spot answer I thought more about how to decode an enterprise’s “why”.  Here are some strategies that have served me:

  • Most organizations have immense amounts of literature, online content, and stories about “what” they do.  They can tell you every program, service, and metric.  This is low hanging fruit and easy to slot into the “what” portion of the Golden Circle.
  • The sleuthing begins when you unpack the organization’s “how.”  Begin by asking what values are important to an organization when they select a program or service?  How do they deliver their services? What is the organization’s hallmark?  Why?  What people do they hire to join the team and why?  How does their Help Wanted sign read?  How are they uniquely positioned to fulfill their mission?  Somewhere in these questions one will begin to assemble the “how.”  Remember that “how” is not tangible, instead it is commitments to maximizing a cause’s purpose.
  • The “why” may appear a void but these shortcuts may help.  Ask why the cause was founded.  What problem or opportunity was the founder trying to impact and address?  Founders are amazingly coherent when articulating the purpose of an organization.  Ask the founding story or what the early years were like at the cause.  Consider a query about the organization’s current signature event/program?  You can even use the Seth Godin approach and ask if one were to describe the organization’s greatest super power, what would it be? Lastly, you can always ask the Chief Executive or most visionary employee why they chose to join the cause?  What do they believe that the organization amplifies?
The cause may not be ready to discuss its “why” but with some leading questions one should be able to assemble enough information to understand the enterprise’s purpose.

What question’s do you ask to get to “why”?