Simon Sinek is one of my favorite leaders and speakers in business. I discovered Sinek in early 2010 when I saw his TED Talk on how great leaders inspire action. The core of this presentation was a simple but compelling concept – people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.
Since Sinek is the leader of a movement aimed at challenging people to find their “why,” I was surprised and intrigued when I saw his recent video about a time when he lost his sense of purpose.
He traveled to Afghanistan on a military visit and found himself in the middle of an attack at the base. Instead of feeling inspired by what he saw and having the urge to help out (as he thought he would feel), he freaked out. Although Sinek is typically a nice and sympathetic guy, he became rude, selfish, and did whatever he could to get out of there, even if it meant offending people or putting himself before those in need. He couldn’t figure out why he had plunged into this dark and nasty place, but then he realized: he had lost sight of his purpose.
Upon this realization, he decided to turn that train around. He reconnected with his purpose—to serve those who serve others—and instantly felt at peace. He got to work and spent the rest of his mission volunteering and doing whatever he could to lend a hand.
Another profound point Sinek makes is about leadership (fast forward to 16:10 if you want to see this part). He says, “The cost of leadership is self-interest…You are not a leader because you own a company. You are not a leader because everyone reports to you. You are not even a leader because you make tons of money. You’re a leader when you decide the people you serve are your employees.” He tells a story about an inspiring conversation he had with a military General. When he asked the General why the Marines are such a remarkable organization, he responded with three short words—“Officers eat last.” He meant that officers eat after all of their soldiers, demonstrating the respect and appreciation they have for their troops.
Sinek’s main point with this story: “If you want your employees to be completely devoted to you and your cause, you have to be completely devoted to them.” He says that great leaders look after their people, put them first, and demonstrate the deeper purpose. This also relates to customers, not just employees. Sinek encourages us to avoid distinguishing between customers and employees. They’re all human beings and should be treated as such.
Powerful words from a powerful speaker that serve as a reminder to stay in touch with your “why” and always be a champion for the people you cherish most.