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GREAT IDEAS: Simon Sinek’s 5 qualities of a leader with an infinite mindset

Quality leadership in new book from Start with Why's Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek spends his days trying to raise the quality of today’s leaders.  

Ahead of his Australian and New Zealand tours in 2020, the speaker and author, whose push for purpose and quality leadership have made him famous, spoke to us about an "infinite mindset." 

“I’m a crazy idealist, I’m out there preaching a vision of the world that does not yet exist,” he says, in his interview with The Growth Faculty this week.  

He says he wrote his latest book The Infinite Game as “a rallying cry for anyone who wants to be inspired at work and come home like that every day.” 

Simon Sinek’s qualities of a leader with an infinite mindset 

  • They have vision, “a Just Cause.”  
  • They do a lot of hard work to build trusting teams.  
  • They understand their primary responsibility is to create an environment in which people can work at their natural best. “You’re responsible for the people who are responsible for the results.” 
  • They view the other players in their industry "as Worthy Rivals, not just as competitors" and they learn from them.   
  • They have the ability to change strategy “because they find a better way to advance their vision, even if it means short term pain.” 

“All this requires tremendous courage,” he adds.

He cites Apple as an infinite game player who views Microsoft as a Worthy Rival.

(Apple's Steve Jobs is also featured in our article HOW YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE AFFECTS THOSE AROUND YOU . His demanding perfectionism did suggest a strong vision, but it might have also adversely affected team mood).  

Sinek’s quest to inspire quality leadership began as a very personal journey.  

“All of my work is semi-autobiorgraphical. My first book Start with Why was about finding my passion and the loss of my passion. Turns out, there’s a lot of us who want to have passion in our work.  

The second book, Leaders Eat Last, was as my career progressed, I struggled to know who to trust. It’s really about how to form trust.  I wanted to feel trusting and be trusted when I went to work.” 

He told us he wrote The Infinite Game after some leaders accused him of not understanding how business worked, and of being that crazy idealist.  

“When I discovered this concept of finite and infinite games, I realised that I wasn’t the one who didn’t understand how business works, they are the ones who don’t understand how business works.”   

Sinek backs this up by saying many employees go to work feeling uncomfortable.  

"[But] we see these people who make more money than us,...who have much more power than us, and we sort of listen to them. And, so we keep quiet, and we just keep having that uncomfortable feeling.”   

Finite games and infinite games are a concept put forward by James Carse in the 1980s. 

In The Infinite Game, Sinek explains that, unlike finite games with winners and losers, infinite games have no winners or losers. There is no such thing as “winning business,” he says.

However, his research discovered that leaders who embraced the qualities of an infinite mindset could increase trust, cooperation and the capacity for innovation.  

(For more leader qualities, see What Makes a Good Leader in 2020 - The Definitive Guide.)

Sinek tells the story of when he took a risk on first sharing his new concept with a live audience. 

“I was invited to speak at a conference, and Seth Godin, whose work I absolutely love and adore, spoke right before me. And he gave this wonderful impassioned speech about taking risks and being uncomfortable and trying new things.”  

Sinek had been hired to speak about his bestseller Leaders Eat Last at the conference, but switched topics as he walked onto the stage.   

“I walked out and I said ‘Seth just talked about taking risks, and so would you like to hear about an idea that I’ve never talked about publicly? And this could totally backfire!’ and the audience applauded, and there we go, I stood up there for the first time live and tried it out and it worked.“  

In his journey, he has come up with a new definition for the responsibility of business, potentially one to replace Milton Friedman’s dictate in the mid-1970s “to maximise profits within the bounds of the rules.” 

Simon Sinek’s new definition of business “needs to start with people, it needs to contribute to something bigger, and absolutely it needs to be profitable...but that needs to come as part of a bigger picture instead of being the only piece of the puzzle,” he told The Growth Faculty.  

His definition, then, perhaps requires leaders to familiarise themselves with the characteristics of ethical leadership

And, it's the reason business leaders need to pay attention to Simon Sinek's message

In an infinite game, Sinek says, we can start to feel safe.  

"We want to feel that we can be our true selves that we don’t have to wear a mask to work, or even amongst our friends. That we can express our vulnerabilities, our fears, our anxieties, our insecurities without fear of judgement,” he says.  

“If we don’t feel safe at work then we show up every day at work lying, hiding, and faking. We’re hiding our mistakes, we’re pretending that we know what we’re doing when we don’t, because we’re afraid of being humiliated or getting in trouble from our bosses. That is the absence of psychological safety.”   

It's a timely topic, and one highlighted in the work of Dr Susan David, of Harvard Medical School, who says an absence of psychological safety leads to destructive self-talk

In a message to Australian and New Zealanders, who will see Simon Sinek in March 2020, Sinek said he loved the fact that his work resonated so loudly down under.  

“I really see the population there as soldiers in this army, working to change the way business works for the better, change the way society works for the better, the way politics works for the better. [Smaller populations] can affect greater change much more quickly.” 


Simon’s GREAT EIGHT,  

(8 getting to know you questions we ask all our authors)  

What book would you recommend?  How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk  by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish  It’s a parenting book, it’s meant for little kids, but it’s remarkable how powerful the lessons in that book apply to adults, especially in business.  

What’s been your worst job?  I’ve had jobs where I’ve had bad leadership, I’ve had jobs where the work was tiresome, but I’ve always had great teams that I’ve worked with.  

What frustrates you about poor business leadership? That business leaders think that their job is to get the most out of people. It’s just wrong. They need to create an environment where people can work at their natural best. 

What’s one of the best decisions you’ve ever made to improve your career?  To ask for help.  When I started my own business, I thought I had to know the answers, and when I didn’t, I pretended I did.  I thought that, because I was a leader, I had to always show that I was in command of everything, and know everything better than anyone else...and it’s so not true. Admitting that I didn’t know something and asking for help was perhaps the single best lesson I ever learnt. 

 What’s a fun fact that’s not widely known about you?  I like Star Wars...a lot.  I like Boba Fett and The Mandalorian.  

How do you stay on top of your game?  My ideas stay fresh when I engage with people. I don’t really learn by reading, I learn by talking to people. So, when I’m out there and having lunches, visiting companies, visiting organisations, meeting wonderful leaders, people who challenge me, that’s what helps me come up with ideas.  

What’s been a low moment in your life and how did you recover?  When I lost my passion for what I was doing.  I was lying, hiding and faking every day because superficially my life was good, I had a good job, I made a decent living, I had great clients, I did great work. I just didn’t want to do it again every day, and so I pretended I was happier, more in control, more successful than I felt, which is a pretty dark place to be – I have to be honest. The solution didn’t occur until a friend came to me and said, “I’m worried about you.” And, it was the power of a human being who came to me and said “How can I help” that freed up my mind to find a solution, and the solution that I found was this thing called the WHY. ‘Cos I knew what I did, and I knew how I did it, but I didn’t know it was life changing, literally and figuratively.  

What’s a prediction you can make for 2025? I think there will be a rebellion against digital...I think people are going to do better to shut down the devices and find new ways to spend time with human on one or in groups, without technology to be the intermediary.  There’s a craving for deep, meaningful connections and we’re going to find to ways to do that.  

To buy Simon Sinek's book The Infinite Game from Booktopia, click here. 

More information and tickets for The Growth Faculty events:
 Simon Sinek LIVE - March 2020 in Australia
Simon Sinek LIVE - March 2020 in New Zealand