Because they would have done it for me: About leadership and safety

Have you ever heard of US Army Captain William D. Swenson? He recently received the Medal of Honor from US president Barack Obama for putting his life at risk to rescue other soldiers on a battlefield in Afghanistan. Not only did he run into the fire without a helmet on to pull his camarades out of the scene, he also got caught on camera giving one of his wounded guys a kiss on the forehead.

Management theorist and leadership expert Simon Sinek, who also gave the extremely popular TED talk How great leaders inspire action, has looked into the dynamics of organizations that continuously evince loyal, motivated members. He has asked some of these “heroes” why they do such things, and they all responded with the same reason: Because they would have done it for me. “If you get the environment right, every single one of us has the capacity to do these remarkable things.” Trust and cooperation seem to be the main motivators to make people deliver great work, stay motivated and look out for each other and the company. You can’t instruct people to trust you, though. Trust and cooperation are feelings and behaviors that are rooted in our early days.

50.000 years ago, the world was filled with danger: weather, lack of resources, sabertooth tigers… They were all threats to our existence. Without a circle of safety inside our tribe, where we felt safe and like we belonged, we wouldn’t have been able to sleep at night and trust that somebody else would watch out for danger. It’s simply a system of survival: It’s our natural reaction to give back if we feel safe.

Modern day threats can be

  • the ups and downs of the economy,
  • the uncertainty of the stock market,
  • a new business model that renders your business obsolete overnight
  • or your competition.

You have no control over these conditions, but you do have control over the circle of safety inside a company. And that’s why leadership matters: It’s the leader that sets the tone. If the leader decides to put the safety and wellbeing of the people first, remarkable things happen. Find out what these are in Simon Sinek’s new TED talk!

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