The choice to lead

I was lucky enough to hear Simon Sinek speak in Melbourne last week at the “Start with Why” Leadership Forum. A quick bit of reading about the event and I was excited, but I was a little concerned that The Growth Faculty event could be very business-world oriented and those of us in the realm of dealing with individuals rather than numbers, could be overlooked. I was pleasantly mistaken.

After listening to him and having had 48 hours to sit on some of his insights I thought I would get down on paper a few things that really resonated with me, so here goes:

  1. Leadership is a choice.

Simon made it really clear that none of us have fallen into leadership. We have not had it thrust upon us without wanting it. We made the decision to step up, apply, and get given the opportunity to lead. We wanted this. We chose it for ourselves. And if you didn’t, then what are you doing?!

The challenge then, is it make the most of it. Not hide behind it. Own the fact you are a leader.

However, the risk is that leaders will fall into doing the job they have always done, the one that they are good at, the one for which they likely got promoted from. So, Simon reminded us that we are no longer responsible for “the job”, but responsible for the people who are responsible for “the job”.

  1. Leadership has nothing to do with being in charge, but taking care of those in your charge.

The effective leader is not ‘in charge’, but rather supports those with whom they work. The effective leader provides a safe space in which colleagues thrive and where they will be prepared to take risks and potentially fail.

Simon talks about the circle of safety where leaders have established behaviours and where it is there role to protect colleagues from the dangers outside the circle. This is the price of leadership. In Simon’s words, this is why we get the bigger offices, the bigger pay-packets etc. So, that we will be the first to take a hit for the team, the first to confront the danger when it arises. We need to be the self-sacrificing leader rather than the self-serving leader. Leadership is the choice to take care of other people.

3. Know your why? 

If you have ever read or seen Simon’s work, you will be familiar with the concept of knowing your why. Why you do what you do – and the fundamental importance of operating from this space all the time.

Simon stressed the importance of this again, but spoke about how we come to know our why. The observation that this is not aspirational, but often a story of how your organisation came to be (an origin story), struck a chord with me. Working in a regional Catholic secondary school, we have recently re-connected with the Mercy Sisters who started our school many years ago.

Hearing stories from long serving staff about these Sisters and the approach they took to education and the community more broadly, assists all staff at our school, not just new staff, to understand and appreciate the why of some of our decisions. Putting these origin stories front and centre at our school brings our why to life.

Ensuring all staff and students know and understand the why of our school is fundamental.

Shaun Mason, 2017