Leadership

Simon Says – Simon Sinek’s Inbound 14 Keynote on Leadership

[View from Boston Harbor near the convention center. Work is rough.]

For the last week, I’ve been at Inbound 14 with the rest of my team at Cleriti, and I have to admit: Inbound rocks! I’m not one to gush (edit: that’s just a blatant lie), but it was an amazing time! Not only did I bond with my team—incredibly important for telecommuters—but I also sat in sessions and learned more about my industry.I’m not going to do a “Top Three Lessons from Inbound 14” post—that’s something I wrote for our agency’s blog—but I do want to fangirl a bit:

Simon Sinek.

I like him.

I really like him.

Okay. I <3 him.

Sinek’s talk for his book, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Some Don’t, was amazing. Until Inbound, I’ll admit: I’d never heard of Simon Sinek. But now I have, and if you haven’t, then you need to, because…

We all need to examine our stance as leaders

I’ve been in leadership positions since I entered the working world. In undergrad, I was a tutor trainer, and I managed and mentored new tutors while organizing teams for conference presentations. In grad school, I was the Assistant Writing Center Director, leading a team of 24 graduate and undergraduate tutors as I coordinated competing schedules and campus-wide events. I also chaired our department’s graduate student conference, and I was responsible for several teams of volunteers during the eleven months it took to plan the conference. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

In my current role with Cleriti, I manage writers, and I am very aware of my role as a leader — not just as a manager or a supervisor. I strive to consider the ramifications of leadership on a regular basis (as I work towards future leadership roles), and I was blown away by how succinctly and logically Sinek argued that we often think about this concept in the wrong way.

Based on my life experiences, I wholeheartedly agree.

Sinek rejects the thought that “successful” leaders don’t need to make sacrifices

In marketing—and honestly, the rest of the business world—the concept of leadership is pervasive: we need to show we’re industry leaders, thought leaders, that we’re leading the charge….leaders, leadership, leading, lead. In fact, Forbes’ famous 2013 bracket of annoying business jargon includes “thought leadership.” which made it to the Elite Eight. The term is recognized as jargon, but it’s also a valued part of the culture of business. We pride ourselves on this sense of the entrepreneurial, the ability to take (successful) risks, and, well…leadership.

We look to hire leaders, we value leadership, and we reward leaders.

The culture of marketing and business is saturated with this concept. When speaking to a room of marketers, Sinek hit a home run by talking about what it is to be a leader (sacrificial, creating a sense of safety) vs. how leadership is often portrayed (cutthroat, ruthless, dominating). He created a parallel between company culture and fear, and encouraged us to examine the type of culture we work in or create—if we feel the need to send CYA emails or log a record of everything we do for the company in case we get hauled into the boss’s office, we’re in a culture of fear.

That fear indicates that there’s been a failure of leadership.

Aly, I get it. Leadership is awesome. Sacrificial leadership is the best. What’s your point?

A company or a team could be incredibly successful. They could be thought leaders in their industry, they could be on the cutting edge and leaders in innovation.

And yet their leadership could be failing.

Just because you’re in the role of a leader doesn’t mean you’re leading effectively or properly. Having authority doesn’t mean you’re sacrificing for the people you lead, and having a title doesn’t make it easier for you to connect with others. Trying to be a good leader doesn’t mean you’re succeeding at it. Not all leaders look forward to sacrificing for the good of their people.

This was mind-blowing for me. As a leader, I try to be accessible, and I try to give both my time and energy to the people I lead, as Sinek mentions. I work hard to be prepared, to follow through, to demonstrate excellence (in whatever tangible way I think is appropriate for the situation).

But I’ve never thought about a successful company having failed leadership. I’ve never wondered if I unintentionally create a culture of fear—and that means I haven’t consciously tried to calm fears or cultivate trust.

So Simon Sinek gave me a lot to think about, and I can’t wait to read his book.

Until I’ve become the best leader I can be—and trust me,  I know that’s a never-ending journey—you’ll find me in the corner, reading books on leadership and wearing a homemade “I <3 Simon Sinek” t-shirt.

 

Featured image taken by Aly Schweigert. All rights reserved. 

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