A high-performing employee with low trust is a “toxic” team member, according to Simon Sinek. You are better off with someone who inspires high trust, even if they are just a mediocre performer. The challenge is helping those who lack it build the trust they need to succeed.
Sinek is a consultant, author, motivational speaker and has one of the 10 the most popular Ted talks ever, How Great Leaders Inspire Action. He was a keynote speaker at last week’s AICPA conference in Las Vegas.
He has served as an organizational consultant with the Navy Seals, an organization that demands top performance and flawless teamwork.
His work with the Seals led him to classify team members along the two dimensions of trust and performance:
While performance is easily defined in the context of one’s job performance, trust is more difficult. Sinek said trust equates to personal character – for example, whether someone will “have your back” when the chips are down and whether they exhibit humility, empathy and patience. “Those are the qualities we want in good leaders,” Sinek said, “as well as good teachers.”
Everyone wants employees in the top right quadrant and nobody wants those in the lower left. Those are the easy calls. The challenge are those in the upper left, what Sinek called the “toxic” team members who perform exceptionally well but can’t build trust among their colleagues. He said they are typically very easy to identify – Just ask who the a--holes are.
They are not necessarily bad people, he said. They may have lacked feedback or worked for organizations that actually incented that type of behavior.
“Don’t fire them,” he said, “coach them to learn the right skills and improve performance. A lot of them can really grow.
But if they are un-coachable, he said, then terminate them.
Sinek discussed a number of other traits that define great leaders and teams.
Every organization needs a reason to exist, what he called your “why.” That can’t be about yourself. It has to speak to how you serve and provide value to others.
To make money is egocentric and uninspiring. That cannot be your “why.” He gave the example of Steve Jobs, who defined the mission of Apple as changing the status quo. The computers and the rest of Apple’s products were the way to achieve this mission.
Everyone has a “why,” he said, even if you don’t know what it is. It is a product of your upbringing and was formed in our late teens. When you are “in sync with your why,” he said, it is joyful and, if not, it is stressful.
We need to combine with those who share the same why, according to Sinek, through partnership and marriage. Firms need to define their vision and common purpose, and then find people with the “why” that supports that goal.
When you talk about your vision and your why, Sinek said, you attract the right people.
Middle management is the hardest job in any organization, he said. Senior managers have been trained in business and other disciplines. Junior-level workers are expected to just do the jobs for which they have been trained. Eventually, they get promoted to management, Sinek said, but without the proper training.
“Those people have to be strategic and tactical,” he said, “but without the time to focus on either.”
We don’t train people how to lead, Sinek said. We need training that covers how to listen, be effective at confrontation and how to give and receive feedback. The problem is that many managers are self-taught, using TED talks and reading, but lack the proper, formal education.
“Be the leader you wish you had,” Sinek said. “Worry about the people around you and how to motivate them to succeed.”
Sinek stressed the importance of what he called “hallway talk” – the informal conversations that happen in the lunchroom or around the water cooler. These can be very productive if some structure is added. In smaller firms, he said, there are book clubs, where everyone reads a chapter and discusses the topic. Instead of books, it can be done with Ted talks, where team members spend an hour discussing a topic.
“There are very inexpensive ways to put together this type of curriculum and get feedback,” Sinek said. “It is easier in a small firm, because people know and care about each other.”
Organizations can benefit from the experience of other professions, according to Sinek. Netflix succeeded because the traditional movie and television industry didn’t see the future of a subscription-based service.
“Don’t go down the route of protectionism and staving off change,” he said. “Another firm completely outside your profession can eviscerate your livelihood. Try to image what you would do if you invented your industry now, knowing nothing.”
Speaking to his audience of advisors and accountants, he said they got into their businesses to be of service to human beings. “Understand how to deliver the service you have,” Sinek said, “ignoring the way you do it now.”
“Infinite mindsets embrace change as a way to grow your business,” he said.
We want to avoid failure, Sinek said, but we should embrace “falling.” Falling is about taking risk, which is good. When someone falls, suggest how to fix it so they can try again. People need to know they won’t lose their jobs, he said.
“Guide them to fix the problem,” he said. “Make sure people don’t fear that their job is on the line if they fail.”
Innovation is not efficient, according to Sinek; it is trial and error. “When we believe in something desperately,” he said, “the worst thing we can do is cut people off when they have intense passion about something. Never restrain someone with passion.”
There is nothing wrong with taking someone else’s ideas and implementing it in your organization, Sinek said.
Social media is neither good nor bad, Sinek said. “It’s a matter of how you use it. It’s a question of balance.”
If your social media usage is unbalanced, it will hurt friendships and your ability to deal with stress, because you will turn to social media for validation instead of to your friends.
We haven’t labeled social media use as an addiction, he said, “but it can be.” It needs to be thought of like alcohol or drugs. Children should be restricted and companies should ban cell phones in conference rooms and meetings. Meetings will get shorter, he said, and the quality of relationships and communication will improve.
“We need to build connections in our personal and professional lives,” Sinek said. “We need to be able to turn to people who we call our friends.”
Leadership is a very lonely experience, he said, especially when you see the world a little differently. “Life or work or a career is too difficult to do alone,” Sinek said. “Work hard to protect those friendships. There is no greater joy than to be there for someone else who is struggling.”
Read more articles by Robert Huebscher