Simon Sinek at the “Start with Why”​ Leadership Forum

By Posted on : 9 Mar 2017 0 Comments

On the 7th of March, Simon Sinek headlined the “Start with Why” Leadership Forum in Sydney, supported by Peter Docker and presented by The Growth Faculty and sponsors The Australian Institute of Management. The MC for this event was Christine Kininmonth, interviewer for The Growth Faculty and Director of Fertile Mind.

Being a huge fan of Simon’s, you could imagine my excitement as I walked into the auditorium of the International Convention Centre with a 2500 strong audience.  The audience was eager to spend the day learning from the man who is not only the successful author of 3 best-selling books, “Start with Why”, “Leaders Eat Last” and “Together is Better”, and one of the most well-known leadership guru’s, but his TED talk on how great leaders inspire action has now been viewed over 30 million times .  So, you can understand why I jumped at the chance of seeing him live in Sydney.

The main question for the day was – How do we inspire others to take action?  So, what does leadership really mean?  Everyone has a different definition, but to Simon it means trust (safety) and communication. You cannot order people to trust your leadership, nor can you order people to co-operate.  Get the conditions right to ensure that trust and cooperation happen – but get the conditions wrong and self-interest, paranoia and cynicism will thrive.

Simon then touched on the 4 chemicals inside our brain – Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin and why they were important for us all to understand when discussing leadership;

  • Endorphins will allow us to endure physical pain, masking it so we don’t feel it.
  • Dopamine gives you the feeling of accomplishment – like the feeling associated with setting a goal and achieving it.  If left unchecked, dopamine can be destructive and addictive; for example, alcohol, nicotine and gambling releases the same chemical into your body.

These two chemicals don’t have lasting effects however and require numerous “doses” in order for an individual to maintain these feelings.

However, the remaining 2 chemicals are promoters of collaboration and balance:

  • Serotonin creates feelings of pride and status (closely related to confidence) – this can be seen in relationships between the leader and follower, mother and child. It comes from the people who believe in you, even when you don’t believe in yourself.  Good leaders sacrifice their own lives and interests to protect the lives of other people around them.
  • Oxytocin is the final chemical – much like human touch, it releases a chemical that makes us feel safe.

The example he used was very powerful. Imagine if you were closing a huge deal for your company. You sign the contract and go to shake hands and the other person refuses. Although you have the signed contract in your hand, the person has not shaken your hand after the deal has been made. Simon feels strongly that you will likely move away from the deal or enter it with doubt. For any human being, the human touch is key to building trust.

As human beings, we put more value on time and energy versus money.  It’s about giving time and energy to our team rather than money.  If an individual or a team achieves a goal, or makes progress, an email just does not suffice – public recognition does. This is key to ensuring your team feels valued and appreciated.

We have an obsession with “getting the right people on the bus,” but we don’t ask, “which bus? And who’s driving the bus?”

Simon then wanted to talk about a new theory of leadership ‘game theory’ which has 2 main players – finite and infinite.

  • Finite game players play stable games such as cricket, for a finite period of time, with set parameters and structure
  • Infinite game players play with varying parameters, which are constantly changing, different players and moving parts

He stated that business should be like an infinite game – no fixed rules, players come and go and there will always be changing parameters.

Being an infinite player is not about beating your competition, it’s about bettering yourself, building a better company with better people, better processes and advancing a noble cause and belief in what it is you are doing. Infinite business or leadership is hard to measure and is often intangible.

Everyone has the capacity to be a leader but not everyone should be.  Leadership is a choice, a learnable, practicable skill.  Much like a muscle, it gets easier as you build the muscle, but the difference is that there is no exact time frame or end date.  The company itself may prefer intensity training for their leaders as they feel this is a better, faster paced and quicker way to get results – but leadership is all about consistency.

“It’s not about being ‘in charge’ it’s about looking after people who are in ‘your charge’”

During question time, a certain question from the audience caught my attention.  They asked about women in leadership and how it is often perceived that women are not good at leadership.

Simon’s response to this question was that it’s not that we need more women in business and leadership, we need more people acting like women… and women are better at acting like women! He then went onto share that typical male traits can be decisiveness and aggressiveness, whilst the typical female traits can be empathy and patience.  Simon added that these are traits that are needed in leadership and are inherently female traits. He stated that they are not “soft skills”, rather “human skills”.

Simon comes across exactly as what you would expect – amazing, inspiring, fast on his feet while always maintaining his focus.  He is funny and an excellent story teller!

When asked questions from the audience, he was firm yet compassionate.  He interacted with the audience and challenged us, not answering questions in the way that was expected. I found him to be candid, drawing on a lot of examples and parallels to parenting.

He touched on many topics which included women in business, Trump, men in business and millennials, maintaining his positivity throughout.  He was all about forward thinking and stated we should always come together to stand for things, rather than coming together to be against things, while at the same time not judging others that do believe in instant gratification.

I walked away from today with a renewed understanding of the importance of being in the position that I am in – as a business owner and a leader to my team of  8 strong, intelligent women. I will build trust by asking for help, not offering it, and continue to create a circle of safety.  External forces will always be a constant, but it’s the internal forces you can change and influence and this is what I plan to continue and build on, not only for myself and my business, but for my team.  Leadership can come at a great personal sacrifice but it’s the unpredictable glimmers of hope that make it worthwhile (much like parenting!)

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”