First The Why, And Then Trust

June 14, 2018 - By Simon Sinek, American author on leadership and motivational speaker.


Simon Sinek is, as always, thought-provoking. My takeaways from this video were, firstly, that when you recruit and select, look for people who believe what you believe (shared values and beliefs). This is far more important than that they have the right skill-set and experience. From 25 years of experience of endeavouring to build a team of care and growth consultants, the number one criteria has been that they are totally convinced and prepared to take a bullet for the basic tenets and principles which underpin this unique framework for cultivating trust in the leadership of an enterprise. And secondly, the only way to build trust is through face-to-face contact. This is why email will never substitute for quality time with one’s manager where the manager’s intent is to care for and enable his people to realise their full potential. People in organisations trust managers who care about them. That care is evidenced in the quality time that managers give to their people. This is simply because, as human beings, we give time to, and pay attention to, that which we care about.

OUR SUMMARY OF THIS VIDEO: We all came here for the same reason – we have similar values and similar beliefs. That’s the reason we showed up. We don’t know each other and yet we know something about each other. This is important because the survival of the human race depends on our ability to surround ourselves with people who believe what we believe. When we’re surrounded by people who believe what we believe, something remarkable happens: trust emerges.

Trust is a feeling, a distinctly human experience. Simply doing everything that you promise you’re going to do does not mean people will trust you; it just means you’re reliable. We all have friends who are total screw-ups and yet we still trust them.

Trust comes from a sense of common values and beliefs. The reason trust is important is because when we are surrounded with people who believe what we believe, we’re more confident to take risks, to experiment (which requires failure, by the way). We are more confident to go off and explore knowing that there is someone from within our community, someone who believes what we believe, someone we trust and who trusts us, who will watch our back, help us when we fall over, and watch our stuff and look after our children while we’re gone.

Our very survival depends on our ability to surround ourselves with people who believe what we believe.

For instance, our most valuable possession on the planet is our children. So let’s imagine we’re going out on a date and we require a babysitter. Option one, there’s a 16-year old from just down the street from within the community with barely, if any, babysitting experience. Option two, there’s a 32-year old who just moved into the neighbourhood – we don’t know from where – but she’s got years of babysitting experience.

Who do we choose? The 16-year-old.

We’d rather trust our children, our most valuable possession, with somebody from within our community with no experience over somebody with vast amounts of experience, but we’ve no idea where they’re from or what they believe.

Then why do we do it differently at work? Why are we so preoccupied with somebody’s resumé and where they worked and what they’ve done for our competition. And yet we never seem to consider what they believe, where they’re from. How can we trust them? How can they trust us?

What’s a community? What’s a culture? What’s a nation?

It’s a group of people with a common set of values and beliefs, right?

And the single biggest challenge that any culture or any organisation will ever face is its own success.

All organisations are founded on the same basic principle. There’s some sort of measurement – it’s often money, but it could be anything. And there is time. And when an organisation is founded what they do and WHY they do it are inextricably linked.

There is usually some founder, or some small group of founders, that are able to put their vision into words. And their passion inspires others to come and join them in pursuit of something greater than all of themselves. And they trust their gut and off they go and it is an amazing experience.

The problem is, as they grow, as what they do becomes more successful, they can no longer rely on themselves. They have to hire somebody who hires somebody who hires somebody … who has to make a decision. Based on what?

The problem is why they do it starts to go fuzzy.

This is the biggest single challenge any organisation will face. It’s the thing that I call ‘the split’. Symptoms of the split inside an organisation are when stress goes up and passion goes down. Or when the old-timers, the people who were there from the beginning start saying things like, “It’s not like it used to be. It doesn’t feel the same anymore.”

Even though the organisation might be more successful than it ever was in the past, it’s just not the same.

Other symptoms are when the organisation starts focusing more on what the competition is doing and worrying less about what they are doing. When they start asking outsiders, “Who should we be, how should we talk to you?” At the beginning they never asked anybody, they ran on their own passion, on their own energy.

This is what happens in organisations like Apple. In 1985 Steve Jobs left Apple and the company went down; Steve Jobs came back.

And Howard Schultz left Starbucks and Howard Schultz had to come back. And Michael Dell left Dell and had to come back.

Now whether they’re clear on their own whys now or not is yet to be seen.

But the point is that these founders, these visionary guys physically embodied the reason, the cause around which, people showed up in the first place – and which reminds them why they come to work.

Now, my fear is that an organisation that I love, the United States of America – may be going through a split.

My grandparents’ generation was called The Greatest Generation. Because here was a generation that went off to war to fight this great evil and everybody was united in some sense of common cause and purpose and belief, and trust was at an all-time high. Even those who didn’t go off to war were buying war bonds. Everybody was one.

By contrast, I am genX, the unknown variable. They were The Greatest Generation; I get X.

But then they came back from war and most of them had grown up during the Depression and they wanted now to experience life a bit, they wanted to buy some stuff and care about themselves a little more.

And so the 1950s came, which were defined by responsibility. Going out to give the same kind of loyalty to your company as you gave to your country or to the cause. Everybody gave and you devoted your life to the company.

The problem is, as we started to become more affluent, that sense of purpose and cause and fulfilment, trust and happiness didn’t grow with it. And this is bad and confusing.

And so, in the 1960s we responded, “Well, this responsibility thing didn’t work, so let’s try irresponsibility.” So the hippie movement was born.

And the reason that the whole hippie movement could exist in the first place was because the country was wealthier; so we could afford for people to drop out and our parents could pay for us.

But we didn’t get that sense of fulfilment. So the pendulum swung again.

And then we had the 1970, the Me-generation. Defined about looking after your own happiness. Everybody had his own guru – starting to become very selfish. That didn’t work either.

And all the time we were becoming more affluent – but that sense of fulfilment and happiness and trust was not growing with it.

And then the 1980s came. Still that sense of me, but now business was cool again. In the 1980s we started to see something that had never been seen before – we started to see companies using people to balance the books. They used lay-offs to make the numbers work.

And then the 1990s came and dotcom – about the most selfish behaviour you could find. Everyone wanted to get rich regardless of anything else. And the split continued.

The only thing that happens, the only thing that really grows in organisations and societies when they go through a split is that distrust increases. We become distrustful of each other inside our own organisations, we become distrustful of management, of our politicians.

And now we find ourselves today wondering what to do next. How will we find a sense of fulfilment?

Technology is no help. Andy Grove, the founder of Intel, said that the only thing that the microprocessor ever did was make things go faster. For the exchange of information and ideas, technology is wonderful; for speeding transactions, it’s wonderful; for resourcing and finding people, it’s wonderful.

But it’s terrible for creating human connections. You cannot form trust through the internet.

There’s something called a mirror-neuron, recently discovered, that contributes to how people relate to each other and how we empathize. It’s the feeling you get. They did MRIs. They gave people a picture of someone smiling. In our own brain, when we see someone smiling, the same part of the brain lights up as when we smile. It’s what creates empathy, and it is necessary to create trust. Again, this very human bond.

The reason why the video conference will never replace the business trip is that you can’t get a good gut feeling over a video conference.

I’m a big fan of the blogosphere but bloggers think that the internet is the end all be all of the world. Then explain to me why, once a year, bloggers descend on Las Vegas for a huge convention? Why don’t they do it online? It’s because nothing replaces human contact.

It’s the difference between leadership and authority.

Leadership tells us why we’re here in the first place. They remind us why we came here.

Authority tells us what to do, or tells us what goal to achieve.

In the 1960s Stanley Milgram did an experiment that we now consider to be quite unethical, but the results were remarkable.

He had two groups of people to come to his laboratory: some played the role of a teacher, a volunteer; and then some who played the role of a student but who was actually a scientist pretending to be a volunteer.

They told the ‘teacher’ to sit in front of a counter that had a button and a dial. And they said that they were going to ask some questions of the student and if the student answered wrongly, or refused to answer, the teacher was to press the button and administer an electric shock. And after each shock they would turn up the dial one notch. And the notch said Mild, Medium, Slightly Painful, More Painful, Very Painful, and eventually it went red and said XXX.

But there was really only one electric shock administered throughout the whole experiment – a small shock administered to the teachers so they could feel what it felt like. And so the experiment would progress and the questions would be asked and the teacher would press the button and the scientist, pretending to be the student, would pretend to get an electric shock.

What ended up happening was that when the teacher could see and hear the student  who would scream, the teacher couldn’t go very far before he quit; saying, “I can’t do this anymore, I’m hurting the guy.”

When he could see him but not hear him, he could go further but still not very far before he quit. And the authority figure would stand over him, and every time the teacher said, “But I’m hurting the guy”, the authority figure would say, “It’s imperative that the experiment goes on.” And the teacher would say over and over and over out loud, “The experiment must go on.” It was like Nazi Germany when people said, “I’m just following orders. I’m just following orders.”

They had this mantra to justify their behaviour of hurting somebody.

And when they could hear them but not see them, they could go further still, but they still couldn’t go all the way.

But when they could neither see nor hear the impact of their decisions, 65% of the teachers were able to kill the guy.

The reason the experiment is unethical is because 65% of those people came to help, thinking they were good people, but went home with the knowledge that they could kill someone.

Now what’s our mantra of this day and age? Is it “shareholder value, shareholder value, shareholder value”?

What is our mantra that we’re using to justify the decisions we’re making for people that we cannot see and we cannot hear. And we don’t know the impact of the decisions we are making.

And you know what the people who had ‘killed the guy’ what their biggest concern was? ‘Is anything going to happen to me? Am I going to get into trouble?’ There was no concern for the person they had just potentially killed.

Now think how we do business today. We largely do business on screen. There was a time that if you wanted to know what your employees thought about you, you walked out on the factory floor and you asked them.

Customer service meant actually talking to the people who came into your shop. Now customer service means getting a reply to your email within hours. I actually saw a bank advertising that you could talk to a person.

I fly on an airline and what did they offer me when I reached the highest status possible? They offered me a phone number that I could talk to a person.

Since when is a person a luxury?

Our very survival depends on our ability to interact with human beings. But as growth and scale and size come into play, all of a sudden the humanity of things starts to go away.

There is a time when a desktop meant something horizontal. Now it is something vertical. And a folder used to be a picture. These are funny examples of how technology has co-opted some of our vocabulary.

The problem is that it has co-opted some other ideas too. A friend is not somebody whose status you check. Your network is not on LinkedIn, your conversation does not happen on a blog and you can’t have a discussion on Twitter.

These are human experiences and we need them. We need to learn about each other’s values and beliefs. We can’t simply do it through the Internet. The mirror neurons don’t light up when we’re sending text or receiving IM messages.

What I imagine is the day in which we start to have more human interaction, something that requires a handshake.

Imagine that you want to do business with somebody and they’re standing there with you and they agree to all the terms that you offer. 100%, they agree. And you say, “Great, let’s shake on it!” And they say, “No, no, I agree to all the terms you laid out. We can just do business.” And you go, ‘Good, if we agree, let’s shake on it.’ And they say, “No, no. I agreed to all the terms. Let’s just do business.”

If they refuse to shake your hand, even if rationally speaking they’ve agreed to everything you want, the odds are you won’t do business with them. And if you do, you will feel very nervous about it.

This is what trust is. Trust is human. It’s about human interaction, it’s about real conversations. What we need is more handshake conversations. What we need is more handshake discussion, more handshake debate, more handshake friends, more handshake leadership.

If we don’t, we will not find our own sense of fulfilment and happiness and inspiration. It requires being among people who believe what we believe.

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