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Our Responsibility To Take Care Of Others In Difficult Times

June 27, 2022 - By Simon Sinek, American author on leadership and motivational speaker.

COMMENT ON THIS VIDEO BY WENDY LAMBOURNE, LEGITIMATE LEADERSHIP

As always, Simon Sinek provides nuggets which absolutely align to the Legitimate Leadership experience. What we agree with:

  • Leadership is the responsibility to see those around us rise. Leadership is not about being in charge. It is about taking care of those in our charge – in Legitimate Leadership terms, leaders are accorded legitimate power by their people, they earn their trust, willingness and loyalty only when they do two things for them: care and grow them.
  • A test for a leader is if they ask, ‘how are you doing?’, and actually care about the answer. Care, in other words, is only care if it is genuine. There is only one thing worse than not caring – namely, pretending to care.
  • One of the effects of COVID was recognition of the importance of human connection. From our experience the leaders who gained in trust during the pandemic were those who connected with their people on a human level, who deepened their relationships with their people during that time of crisis.

However we don’t agree with Simon’s statement that ‘it is very hard to start building relationships in a crisis’. Our view is that a crisis is in fact a golden opportunity to reset the relationships that leaders have with their people and to take them to greater heights. This is because there are crucial moments in any crisis. What leaders do in those moments can lead to an irretrievable breakdown in the relationship – or create the conditions which will capture the hearts and minds of their people like never before (see Nothing Like A Crisis To Bring The Chickens Home To Roost).

OUR SUMMARY OF AN EXCERPT FROM THIS VIDEO: Leadership is the responsibility to see those around us rise. It’s the responsibility to take care of those around us.  It’s not about being in charge. It’s about taking care of those in our charge. And the only thing title and authority allow you to do is lead with greater scale. Every one of us has the opportunity to be the leader we wish we had.

This was said by Simon Sinek in an interview with Chris Anderson, head of speaker events company TED.

Q: Chris Anderson: The pandemic was probably one of the most extraordinary experiences any of us have had, what do you think the unexpected psychological carryovers might be?  Part of me thinks that people have got more fragile, that it’s almost like there’s a sort of learned timidity. Have you seen any evidence of that or how would you characterize it?

A: Simon Sinek: I think we’ve definitely all become much more aware of mental health, that it’s a real thing and that mental health affects strong and healthy people. We all suffered trauma during COVID. Some of us dealt with it earlier, some of us dealt with it later, some of us are still dealing with it, but nobody escapes it. When COVID first started, many of us had to pivot our organizations and businesses very quickly. And so I, like many others, went into mission mode.  I called a friend of mine who is active-duty military and asked him a simple question: ‘How do I compartmentalize my emotions so that I can stay focused on the mission?’ He gave me a very stern warning: ‘We can compartmentalize our emotions for only a short time, but no one escapes the trauma of combat. You may not even experience the trauma while you’re in it, you may not experience it when you first come home, you may experience it months later. I experienced it four or five months after I got home.’

So I immediately then called all my A-type personality friends and said, ‘OK, we think we’re good, but we’re going to get hit by this at some point.’ And we made a deal that when we started to feel off our game, we would call each other. Safe space. And we made another deal that there would be no crying alone. That if you had to cry, you picked up the phone and you called somebody.

Well, about four or five months into COVID, I started to feel off my game and I didn’t know what was going on. And so I called that same friend in the military and I asked no leading questions. I simply asked him, ‘Tell me what your symptoms are when you suffer the trauma when you come home from combat. And he said, number one, he falls out of his sleep pattern. He starts going to bed late for no reason and doesn’t want to get up in the morning. And I thought to myself, yep.

He said he has some unproductive days and he comes up with an excuse like, ‘It’s OK, you know, you deserve a rest. It’s fine.’ But then he has another and another and another. And I thought to myself, yep.

And he said he becomes very antisocial – where he doesn’t want to ask for help and he definitely doesn’t want to talk to anybody. And I thought to myself, yep.

And I realized that what I was going through was trauma. And I was afraid to use the D-word, depression, for fear that that was some sort of diagnosis.

I think a lot of people are afraid of that word, but that’s exactly what I was going through. I was going through lowercase d depression.

Another thing I asked is, ‘How do you overcome it?’ He said, you have to force yourself back into a sleep pattern and force yourself to call friends and ask for help.

And I followed the rule that we had set and I called people.

So I think one of the things that comes out of COVID is that we recognized the importance of human connection. You know, in this fast-paced digital world, we kidded ourselves into thinking that we had connections just because we were connected.

But it was amazing to see that when COVID started, regardless of age or technological competency, we all used the phone. Young people were talking to each other!

I think with that intense craving for a human voice and human touch, we were reminded just how fragile we are as human beings.

CA: That phrase, ‘no crying alone’, is powerful. Did you cry with someone?

SS: Yes. I followed my own counsel to my friends. When I had to cry, when I was overwhelmed, I picked up the phone and I just cried. And I had friends call me and do the same. The most important thing that came from that was that none of us felt alone. And there’s that amazing, intense sense of safety that we all desire as human beings. You know, you can’t feel safe when you’re vulnerable – that’s when we need it the most. But you have to build those relationships. You build those relationships in the happy times, the good times, when you think you’re strong, you think you’re great. It’s very hard to start building those relationships in the moment of crisis.

And I think it’s a lesson for leadership: you can’t judge the quality of a crew by how a ship performs in calm waters. You judge the quality of a crew by how a ship performs in rough waters. But the time in calm waters is when you’re building relationship and trust. And you don’t really actually know if you have trusting relationships and trusting teams and loving relationships until the crisis strikes.

When COVID happened a lot of people commented on how they realized who their real friends were. Some people kind of fell by the wayside, it was nothing personal, ‘it’s just that we didn’t call each other … We weren’t angry or anything.’ And there were some people who came out of the woodwork to check in on us and those friendships flourished.

That’s what I mean: it takes hardship for those friendships and that trust to really bear fruit.

But that’s why we have to invest in people when we’re doing well and we don’t think we need anybody.  I think we forget that.

CA: What would you say to someone who doesn’t feel that there’s someone they could, for example, pick up the phone and cry with? Is it hopeless for them until this passes?

SS: There is an irony in when we need help. When I was writing the book Leaders Eat Last, I had the opportunity to visit Alcoholics Anonymous. It is a remarkable organization. Many of us are familiar with the 12-step program. Many of us are familiar with the first step, which is admitting you have a problem. But the other 11 steps also matter. And Alcoholics Anonymous knows that if you master the first 11 steps, but not the 12th, you are likely to succumb to the disease. But if you master the 12 steps, you’re more likely to overcome the disease. That 12th step is to help another alcoholic. It’s service. And so there’s a great irony: when we need help, help someone who’s struggling with the same thing as us. It is the most healing thing we can do.

So, if we need someone to cry with, offer a shoulder for somebody else to cry with.

If we’re feeling lonely, be there for someone else who’s struggling with loneliness.

And this goes way beyond this. So, if we’re looking for love, help somebody else find love; if we’re looking for a job, help somebody else find the job that they love. There’s tremendous value in service.

And you hear about these things all the time, you talk to people about why they chose to go into the profession they went into, especially in the service professions. Let’s say somebody is a counsellor for trauma and you ask why s/he got into the profession? ‘’When I was younger, I suffered a trauma, and somebody was there to counsel me and I decided I wanted to commit my life to doing that for others.’  This is what happens with service.

We forget that although we live in a modern world, we’re actually a very old-fashioned machine. The human animal is a legacy machine living in a modern world. We still work the same way we used to. And we desperately need each other to survive and thrive – as much as we did when we were living in huts in small tribes of 150 people. And so service is the thing.

CA: So a good checklist-question to ask is, is there someone I could reach out to? Actually, there may be other people who are in a much worse situation and maybe there is a call I could make that would be incredibly valuable to that person and help build a relationship with the future?

SS: ‘Are you OK?’ ‘How are you?’ A friend of mine, George Flynn, says his test for a leader is if they ask you how you’re doing, and they actually care about the answer.  I really like that.

CA: If there is no way to get back to normal, can you help us with what the new normal should be based on?

SS: We have to remember that humanity matters.  I don’t mean big-H Humanity, I mean little-h humanity, our humanity. When COVID first happened, so many leaders leaned on their humanity, whether they were effective or ineffective leaders prior to COVID. Many of them picked up the phone and said, ‘Are you OK?’ They called their teams just to check in on them. Or they called their friends to say, ‘Are you OK? How are you?’ Well, we don’t need a global pandemic to do that. That’s called good leadership and we should be doing that all the time. And we should be encouraging those in our charge to do the same for those in their charge.  I hope that remains, I hope the use of the telephone remains. That we don’t just go back to texting all the time. I hope that putting our phones away and having family dinner remains. I think there are a lot of kids that will actually come through this with stronger relationships with their siblings, and stronger relationship with their parents because they had so much time together. And kids who may have struggled before because they weren’t getting the kind of attention they needed, because their parents were so busy with work. But even if mom or dad are busy on Zoom all day, that hour that they could focus on their kid … Kids are remarkably adaptable.

CA: Here’s an anonymous question. ‘I have a friend who is currently struggling with depression, and he’s just not like he used to be. I don’t know what to say to him. He’s actually annoyed by the question, ‘How are you doing? How can I offer my help?’

SS: One of the things I learned by accident a couple of years ago is sometimes statements work better than questions. Because people can avoid questions, right? This is what we all did during COVID. ‘How are you?’ ‘Fine. Fine’. Everyone’s fine, right? And then what do you do with that? And so try making a statement? ‘Something’s wrong. Something’s different. You’re not the same. I’m worried about you.’ Make statements – it leaves very little room for somebody to divert the conversation. ‘You’re not the person I know.’ And do it with love and empathy. And, most important, don’t show up to solve the problem. Especially when you’re starting to have a difficult conversation, you don’t show up to solve the problem. You show up to create an environment in which they’d be willing to open up to you. That’s the only goal. So try a statement instead of a question.

CA: So here’s the last question, ‘What do you mean, Simon, when you say that everyone is a leader?’

SS: Leadership has nothing to do with rank or title. I know many people who sit at the highest levels of organizations who are not leaders. We do as they tell us because they have authority over us, but we don’t trust them and we wouldn’t follow them. And yet I also know many people who sit at very low levels of organizations that have no formal rank and no formal authority, and yet they’ve made the choice to look after the person to the left of them and the person to the right of them, and we would trust them and follow them anywhere. Leadership is the responsibility to see those around us rise. It’s the responsibility to take care of those around us.  It’s not about being in charge. It’s about taking care of those in our charge. And the only thing title and authority allow you to do is lead with greater scale. Every single one of us has the opportunity to be the leader we wish we had.

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