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.

The Post

Is there a place where your tribe can gather and mark their presence?  The days of signing a guest book have given way in many causes to virtual check-ins on Foursquare, location activation on Facebook, and real-time streaming.  Whatever the technology employed, do you have a special club for those that belong?  Augusta National Golf Club has its green jackets and Harley-Davidson its tattoo.  These are ways of standing out among the masses.  These groups also have specific locations to gather and connect.  Where is your tribes gathering place? 


You have just landed in a city that you have never visited.  It is late at night and your senses are overloaded as you try to decode the labyrinth of the airport and find transportation to your final destination for the evening.  Suddenly, a person intersected your meandering path.  “Great game Saturday, wasn’t it'” they state.  You mind races back to the article you read on the plane about the latest travel scams, you tense.  Then the stranger points at the logo on your shirt.  You look down and absorb the fact that your hometown’s college logo is embroidered on your shirt pocket.  The stranger reveals a tattoo on his arm with the same symbol.  You relax and enter into a quick back and forth about the successes of the college football team.  Before long, you have received directions and a few insider tips on getting to your hotel.

Boise State University

What can we learn about building a tribe from college football.  Universities do it as publicly and as well as anyone else.  They gather their members every weekend in the fall to cheer on the team.  The community is full of merchants that sell the tribe’s colors and crest.  Members can connect with each other in-person and online via official and unofficial forums.  Fans plan events the rest of the year to connect outside of game day.  And if you wear the school’s logo around the world, it is assured that you will run into like minded individuals and also somebody who reminds you why failure and doom are certain to befall your warriors during the season. 

Try it someday.  Travel with a favorite college teams logo and count the interactions.

Dunbar’s Law

Dunbar’s Law says a group or tribe can manage no more than 150 relationships before it needs to split into two or more groups.  Seth Godin’s blog post places the theory in context.  If we can only maintain 150 relations (maximum) then who is in the tribe (no Facebook and Twitter do not equate to a bonus).  Be purposeful when building the tribe, no room for those who do not bring something remarkable.  Start by asking who inspires and who impresses.  Those who inspire are doing something for the greater good that impacts others, the impressers might have great stories but do they add value to the circle?  We do not need everyone and cannot maintain a relationship with them anyway so select wisely.

To Squeeze?


I have been following an online forum about maximizing philanthropic opportunities.  The majority of the chat participants were advocating for the squeeze approach when it came to securing a contribution with a potential donor.  The group-think was to get as much as possible from a single interaction.

On a parallel tract I witnessed a number of individual take action to support a cause because there was a sudden need.  No call to action was made, the organization just shared a current challenge they were facing as part of their pledge to be transparent.  The enterprise had not even developed a strategy to address the headwind that was now challenging their ability to stay at speed.  Fans of the cause saw an opportunity to offer assistance at a critical juncture.

Both of these approaches yield results.  The first requires more leverage and manipulation which leaves the donor feeling squeezed.  The second is inspired by a shared belief.  It is powerful and repeatable.

The question, what type of relationship are you cultivating with your tribe?

Super Power

What is your super power?

One of the ideas that resonated with me during Seth Godin’s “Pick Yourself” event in New York City this past week was the notion that each of us has a super power.  We tend to hide them behind our mission statements or provide evasive answers about our talents.  However, when we feel comfortable wearing our cape representative of our super powers it is transformative.  A super power is not about feats of strength or Klout scores.  It is an attribute that envelopes you.  The activity that slows time to a frame by frame presence worthy of the Matrix.  We find comfort in hiding our capes or send them to the emotional dry cleaners, feeling unworthy to tie them on in daily life but that is just what the world needs.  It is what your community and tribe seeks.  When I meet an individual with a super power, it alters the environment, my senses begin to ping as if expecting a lightning strike.

Where is your cape?  When are you going to put it on?