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Where Simon Sinek and Brené Brown agree

TED Talk heavy hitters on our deep-seated need to feel safe at work

It's safe to say Brené and Simon have a lot in common.
To begin with, there's the supernova star factor.

Why is Brené Brown so popular?

Brene Brown on stage with Dare to Lead banner
Sell-out event 2019: Brené Brown Live for The Growth Faculty 

Her raw and powerful 2010 TED Talk The Power of Vulnerability hit a nerve with more than 45 million viewers, and she was offered a ground-breaking Netflix special The Call to Courage.  She speaks about the need for humans to share the discomfort and strength of being vulnerable. 

How did Simon Sinek become famous?

simon sinek on stage
Simon Sinek addresses a 2017 sold-out event for The Growth Faculty

His simple but pointed 2009 TED Talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action has been watched 48 million times and made Start with Why part of our business vocabulary. He talks about the need for humans to share meaning and purpose to achieve great things. 

Both Brown and Sinek have written at least 5 books on personal and/or professional leadership, and both have roughly 600,000 Twitter followers.

But more than that.... 

Both agree on one key message for leaders. 

And that is....

We need to feel safe at work in order to thrive. 

Not just physically safe, but psychologically safe

 Interestingly, Simon Sinek, who also filmed the TED Talk Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe, calls it "work-life balance." 

"It has nothing to do with the hours we work or the stress we suffer," he says. 
"It has to do with where we feel safe. If we feel safe at home, but we don't feel safe at work, then we will suffer, what we perceive to be, a work-life imbalance."

He says he feels the pain of knowing some of us "resign ourselves to waking up dreading to go to work, not feeling safe when we are there, and struggling to find fulfilment in our lives." 

So, what makes us feel unsafe at work?

Vulnerability researcher Brené Brown says it's things like:
  • judgement;
  • exclusion;
  • unsolicited advice giving;
  • lack of recognition;
  • interrupting;
  • sharing [confidences] outside the team meeting.  

It's thinking less of people who've made a blunder, or have simply asked for help.

It's the opposite of assuming others are doing the best they can

"Asking for help is a power move. It's a sign of strength to ask and a sign of strength to fight off judgement when others raise their hands," she says. 

Brené says it reflects a self-awareness that is essential with a relationship of trust.  

And, she says, it's about being vulnerable. 

Brene Brown vulnerability
(Brené Brown says it's about being vulnerable. Image: Wikipedia)

What does Brené Brown mean when she talks about being vulnerable?  It's about taking off our armour, she says, and exposing our hearts - which can open us up to experiencing shame.
Being vulnerable both promotes and requires empathy. It's about knowing ourselves, and recognising ".....the unbearable pain other other people's experiences. Shame is universal." 

So, to feel safe, what people need from others around them includes:
  • listening;
  • staying curious; 
  • being honest;
  • connection and love;
  • keeping confidence. 
"Daring leaders work to make sure people can be themselves and feel a sense of belonging," she says.  

What actually happens when we feel we don't belong? When we feel unsafe?

Nature's built-in alarm system, the hormone cortisol, surges through our bodies when we sense a threat, and helps us prepare to fight, run or hide.

(Image: Simon Sinek on stage for The Growth Faculty)

In Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek explains cortisol is also behind the feelings of anxiety, discomfort or stress we have at work.
  • Whether the danger is real or imagined, the stress we feel is real.  
  • As social animals, we feel stress when we feel unsupported.

“Whereas a gazelle reacts to the cortisol in their bodies, we as humans want to know the cause of our stress, to understand or make sense of our feelings,”  writes Sinek.  

Cortisol puts us on high alert, and searching for reasons for that alert state. 

Sinek says, in trying to explain our unease, we cycle through any number of things we did, or did not do, to help us understand why we feel anxious.  He says the paranoia that cortisol creates is just cortisol doing its job.

It is trying to get us to find the threat and prepare for it.

The problem is, trying to find a threat is distracting.

"The stress [your team members] feel will distract them from getting anything else done until they feel that the threat has passed," says Sinek. 

And, worryingly, in the absence of data, people make up stories. 

brene brown vulnerability and shame
Vulnerability and shame expert Brené Brown says that humans are wired to make up stories when data is missing.

Hundreds of times a day at work we make up stories to protect ourselves. 
  • The boss walked past me without saying hello = I’ve done something wrong. I’m losing my job.
  • Nobody listened to me in the meeting = I'm being excluded, I'm hopeless.
  • I wasn't invited to the meeting = I'm not valuable, they want me off the team. 
  • I didn't do a perfect job = I've got to be perfect or I'm out the door. (See also 4 Destructive Traits of Perfectionism 

In Dare to Lead, Dr Brown says the brain is not a big fan of ambiguous stories that leave unanswered questions and a big tangle of possibilities.

In protection mode, it prefers binaries: Good guy or bad guy? Dangerous or safe? Ally or enemy?   

So, the brain makes up a story.

Conversely, a positive mood makes the team feel safe, and they will use their brain to be more productive.

simon sinek start with why author on being safe at work
(Simon Sinek says people who feel safe are more productive. Image: Simon Sinek)

If we have strong relationships at home and at work, if we feel like we belong, if we feel protected in both, then the powerful forces of a magical chemical like oxytocin can diminish the effect of stress and cortisol," says Sinek. 

A theme in Simon Sinek's books is that it's vital team leaders create a Circle of Safety.

By creating a sense of belonging, Sinek says a Circle of Safety is formed around the people in the organisation.

This reduces the threats people feel inside the group, which frees them up to focus more time and energy to protect the organisation from the constant dangers outside.  Feeling safe helps them seize the big opportunities.

Simon Sinek and Brené Brown are in strong agreement on this. 

"To scale daring leadership and build courage in teams and organisations, we have to cultivate a culture in which brave work, tough conversations, and whole hearts are the expectation, and armour is not necessary or rewarded. 
We have to be vigilant about creating a culture in which people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected."
- Brené Brown, Dare to Lead

To succeed, make everyone in your team feel safe. 
  • Say hello. Ask them about their life;
  • Get to know them well;
  • Include them, and encourage them;
  • Give them information, help them see their value;
  • Bring them inside the group at every opportunity;
  • Notice them, recognise them;
  • Thank them;
  • Share your mistakes, strengthen the trust;
  • Let them be themselves at work;
  • See them. 

See also: Simon Sinek quotes 

Don't miss Simon Sinek Live in March 2020, with tickets SOLD OUT in Auckland and Sydney, and selling fast in Melbourne.  




Learn from Seth Godin, author of 19 worldwide bestsellers, including Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable and This is Marketing.

The early bird price is available for a limited time and tickets are now on sale. 

Melbourne: 18th May, 2020
Sydney: 19th May, 2020
Auckland: 20th May, 2020


Early bird tickets available here.

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