Qualities of a good leader according to Simon Sinek
In 2019, we’re straddling two real yet contradictory ideas. Technology, social media and other digital assets have opened up new possibilities for innovative problem solving and disruption, making our work sharper, optimised and increasingly automated.
But these tools of distraction have also made us unfocused and disillusioned, simultaneously connecting and disconnecting us from the people and experiences around us.
Simon Sinek has been telling us for years that the way we relate to each other, to our work and to our business goals has the ability to transform our lives. For leaders, his latest research summarises the principal problem we currently face:
We’re playing infinite games with finite mindsets.To start playing with an infinite mindset is a game-changing move for leaders, one needed perhaps now more than ever. Read on for how to apply Simon Sinek’s message for fresh and effective leadership in 2020, with four key learnings and complementary business hacks.
1. It Will Challenge Your Assumptions
The Infinite Game highlights how prone humans are to accept the way things are without question. As much as we’d like to imagine ourselves as independent-minded pioneers, we behave this way for good reason.
Established protocols, agreed upon rules, traditions, norms and societal expectations all pave a path to perceived success in the business world, and when we reinforce these norms, we’re rewarded with opportunities and praise. These incentives are deeply rooted and heavily fortified, and often we feel there is no choice to do otherwise.
Challenging these assumptions, like making the decision to put people before profits against the advice of the board, means not only forgoing said rewards, but incurring both overt and subtle forms of punishment.
The Infinite Game describes the way typical business speak reinforces these ideas:
‘...If we listen to the language of so many of our leaders today, it’s as if they don’t know the game in which they are playing. They talk constantly about “winning.” They obsess about “beating their competition.” They announce to the world that they are “the best.” They state that their vision is to “be number one.” Except that in games without finish lines, all of these things are impossible.’
Business Leader Hack: Raise Questions
Challenging our assumptions means carefully examining the unhealthy and unproductive systems we, as business leaders, take for granted, and slowly starting to push back.
2. It Provokes Longevity
There’s no such thing as ‘winning’ marriage, or ‘being first’ at life. These ideas are fully explored in Sinek’s just launched book, The Infinite Game, which takes aim at the limited finite mindset which guides so many well-intentioned leaders.
We’re all players in different types of games, and while some are finite (they have agreed upon rules, there’s a clear end point and they can be won, e.g. football), many are infinite. In these games, there are no winners, and the game continues with or without the players.
The theme of arbitrary competition is where the infinite nature of running an organisation is most clear:
‘In some cases, leaders can become so obsessed with what the competition is doing, falsely believing they need to react to their every move, that they become blind to a whole host of better choices to strengthen their own organization.’
Adopting an infinite mindset means shedding futile metrics, re-framing competitors as worthy adversaries and fully embracing that the game continues with or without you.
Making such a significant shift in leadership takes courage, but as Brene Brown has taught us, courage over comfort means feeling discomfort in the short-term for a more fulfilling and productive long-term play.
Business Leader Hack: Take Action Now to Achieve a Future Goal
Looking beyond the familiar, cozy lure of ‘doing things the way we always have’ means working towards a goal that may not even be realised in our own lifetimes, but will form a legacy that lasts well beyond.
3. It’s Not Just For Business, But it’ll Change the Way You Lead
There’s a reason Simon Sinek’s TED Talks are some of the most watched of all time, and it’s the same reason his books are best-sellers. He speaks about business but doesn’t get bogged down in jargon; he calls out our missteps but offers an alternative; he knows we’re fallible but reassures us we can do better.
Sinek talks a lot about the language of leaders, and his own language is carefully considered, choosing to forgo describing good or bad leaders to simply state that one either is or is not, a leader.
And while his frameworks can certainly be applied to relationships, friendships and even life, his latest research on the future of leadership will transform the way you approach work:
‘There are three factors we must always consider when deciding how we want to lead:
- We don’t get to choose whether a particular game is finite or infinite.
- We do get to choose whether or not we want to join the game.
- Should we choose to join the game, we can choose whether we want to play with a finite or an infinite mindset.’
Playing an infinite game with an infinite mindset, therefore, leads to:
Having a team of people who come to work inspired
Working in an environment of fearless innovators who are unafraid to admit mistakes and hold each other accountable
Being part of a team of loyal, focused and passionate individuals, committed to your business goals
Business Leader Hack: Assess Your Environment and Adapt
Recognising the game you’re in and playing with the right mindset will enable your strategy and execution to align, and give you a fighting chance to accomplish your newly considered, thoughtful goals. It's one of many essential leadership qualities yo.
Take a deep dive into Simon Sinek’s 5 Questions for Leaders for more on understanding The Infinite Game.
4. It’s About the Group, Not the Individual
‘A team is not a group of people that work together. A team is a group of people that trust each other.’
For many companies, internal competition is seen as a motivational tool to push employees to achieve excellence. What this actually creates, however, is a team of people unwilling to help each other, not invested in group success and often, prepared to sabotage the efforts of others to lift themselves up. And with the way leaders set up their incentives, who could blame them?
Prioritising the group over the individual creates transparency, honesty, accountability and deep investment in what’s best for the company, instead of single agents looking out for their own interests. Everyone with a clear goal and a better incentive than money pushing them to reach it: a deep sense of purpose and meaning.
Business Leader Hack: Put the Needs of the Group First
Building a culture of trust and transparency empowers employees to be creative, innovative and inspired. Put them first and they’ll do the same for you.
‘Maintaining an infinite mindset is hard. Very hard. It is to be expected that we will stray from the path. We are human and we are fallible. We are subject to bouts of greed, fear, ambition, ignorance, external pressure, competing interests, ego...the list goes on.’
What Simon Sinek has been preaching and challenging us to do for years isn’t complicated. We know we use our phones too much, don’t trust our teams enough, forget to focus on people instead of numbers, and on and on. But it is, as Sinek states, deceptively hard, and demands we break deep seated habits aligned with alluring incentives at every stop.
In 2020 we’ll see technology continue to redefine the service industry, watch the rise of AI make us feel more obsolete and even less connected, and continue to shift the way we view our relevance at work. Simon Sinek’s message reminds us how vital and powerful the one thing technology cannot replace is: our connections with other people.
As business leaders, our focus should not be on the unattainable targets, aggressive bottom lines and what our ‘competition’ is doing. If instead, we focus on our people and change our mindsets, we’ll witness a new kind of business, as everything else falls into place.