“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
In an outstanding talk at Brandeis University, Simon Sinek outlined how to start a leadership movement by making a shift in perspective.
Sinek advises focusing not on changing your superiors, but on becoming the kind of leader you admire.
He explains how this shift in mindset, where you lead by example no matter your position, can gradually transform your team and eventually the whole organization.
You Can’t Influence Senior Leadership
While Simon Sinek is an advocate for expanding your sphere of influence, starting with senior leadership might not be your best path.
Simon Sinek says:
“You cannot change their point of view. Right?
No number of anonymously books will change their mind. Right?
But I encourage you to keep trying.
No angry conversations, or meetings, will change their mind.
It’s just not going to happen. Right?”
Simon addresses the challenge of altering someone’s deeply entrenched beliefs or perspectives.
It underscores a fundamental truth in communication and influence: you can’t always change another person’s point of view, especially when they are firmly committed to it.
This is particularly true in scenarios where attempts to change their mind are made through indirect means, like anonymous books, or through confrontational approaches, such as angry conversations or meetings.
The emphasis on the futility of these methods is a reminder that people often resist change when it’s imposed upon them in a way that feels aggressive or secretive.
This resistance is a natural human response to feeling attacked or undermined in their beliefs.
Stop Barking Up the Wrong Tree. From “How Do I Change My Leader?” to “How Do I Be the Leader I Wish I Had?”
Shift your focus from trying to change those above you, which is often ineffective, to embodying the qualities of the leader you aspire to be.
This change in perspective from “How Do I Change My Leader?” to “How Do I Be the Leader I Wish I Had?” empowers you to be a positive influence in your environment, regardless of your position.
Simon Sinek says:
“And, so, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Right?
It’s not about how do I change my leader.
It’s how do I be the leaders I wish I had.
Leadership has nothing to do with rank.
Rank affords you authority.
But it doesn’t make you a leader. Right?
Leadership is the awesome responsibility to see those around us rise.
And if you have rank, if you have authority, you can just lead at scale.
And so, what you want to do is be the leader you wish you had.
And we’re not going to change somebody who’s 2, 3, 4 levels up, who disagrees, and ignores, all of the stuff I’m talking about. Right?
Like, we lost them. Right?
Or, they’ll have their come to Jesus moment, a different way. Right?
Which sometimes happens.”
Simon Sinek’s message here is a powerful reorientation of how we often approach leadership challenges.
The key takeaway is the redirection from trying to change your leader to focusing on becoming the leader you aspire to be.
Sinek emphasizes that leadership is not inherently tied to rank or authority. While rank may give a person authority, it doesn’t automatically make them a true leader.
True leadership is about the responsibility and ability to uplift and improve those around us.
This perspective shifts the emphasis from external factors, like the attitudes or behaviors of higher-ups, to internal growth and influence.
Sinek is suggesting that if you find yourself under leadership that doesn’t align with your values or expectations, instead of fruitlessly trying to change those above you – which often proves ineffective – you should focus on embodying the qualities of the leader you wish to have.
This approach is about leading by example and influence, regardless of your position in the hierarchy.
Please Don’t Quit. Instead, Practice the Difficult, Magical, Wonderful Skill of Leadership
Don’t quit just because you don’t have the leader you wanted.
Use every chance you have to practice leadership to lift up everyone around you.
Simon Sinek says:
“But if you are the leader, you wish you had, and this is why I want to see young people, if they go through discomfort or if they have a leader who they don’t buy into, please don’t quit. Right?
Please stay there and practice the difficult, magical, wonderful, honorable, skill of leadership with your team.
Even if you’re the most junior person.
You have somebody to the left of you.
You have somebody to the right of you.
And you can commit to seeing that they feel seen, heard, and understood.
You can commit to helping them achieve their goals.
You can commit to making them feel like someone has their back in difficult times.
You can commit to helping them.
And you can commit to helping ensure that when they go home at the end of the day, that they feel fulfilled, and they had a good day at work.
That’s called leadership.”
Simon Sinek is highlighting a crucial point about leadership, especially for the younger generation facing challenges in their work environment.
The essence of his message is about embracing the role of a leader, irrespective of your position or the difficulties you might face, including having a leader whose style you don’t agree with.
Sinek urges not to quit in the face of such discomfort but to use it as an opportunity to practice and develop the invaluable skill of leadership.
Leadership, as Sinek describes, is not confined to a title or rank. It’s about the impact and influence you have on those around you, even if you’re in the most junior position.
You can lead by ensuring that your colleagues – the ones to your left and right – feel seen, heard, and understood.
It’s about taking the initiative to support and help them achieve their goals, making them feel valued and supported, especially during tough times.
This approach to leadership is about creating a positive, fulfilling work environment for others, regardless of your official role or the challenges posed by upper management.
It’s about committing to the welfare and success of your teammates, contributing to their sense of fulfillment and satisfaction at the end of the workday.
Sinek is defining leadership as an active, daily practice of empathy, support, and commitment to others’ growth and well-being.
This kind of leadership can be practiced by anyone, at any level, and it’s especially important for those who aspire to be the kind of leader they wish they had.
It’s a call to action for everyone to embody the qualities of a true leader – to lead by example, influence positively, and contribute to a healthy, supportive work culture.
By Practicing Leadership, “the Tail Wags the Dog” (You Create a Movement)
You can create a leadership movement. By practicing better leadership locally, it will spread and scale over time.
Simon Sinek says:
“And what you start to find is that, if you can do that, if you can develop that skillset, that these little teams, start to be higher performing, they start to get along better, teaming starts to happen really well.
And leadership will either ignore you because you’re doing fine, or they may surprise you and be like, what are they doing down there, I’m really curious, and they may come and learn from you.
And, eventually, one of you is going to get promoted out of that group, and go to another team, and they’re going to take all the skills they learned from you, and they’re going to bring them to their new team.
And you’re going to have two wonderful, high performing teams, that are highly trusting, and magical.
And then 3, and then 5, and then 10.
And before you know it, the tail wags the dog.”
Simon Sinek is emphasizing the transformative power of leadership at any level within an organization.
He articulates that when individuals, regardless of their rank, commit to practicing effective leadership skills with their immediate team, significant positive changes can occur.
These skills include fostering collaboration, supporting each other, and creating a trust-based team environment.
When you focus on nurturing these leadership skills within your small team, several things start to happen.
First, the team’s performance improves, and the team members cooperate better, enhancing the overall team dynamic.
This is the direct result of practicing empathetic and supportive leadership.
Interestingly, Sinek notes that such changes can have ripple effects.
Leadership higher up the chain may either let you be, recognizing that your team is functioning well, or they might take an active interest in your methods.
In some cases, they might even learn from the practices you’ve implemented and seek to apply them elsewhere.
Furthermore, as team members move on to other roles or departments, they carry these learned skills and attitudes with them.
They become agents of change, spreading effective teaming and leadership practices to new groups. This incremental spread can lead to a larger organizational transformation over time.
Sinek’s metaphor of ‘the tail wags the dog’ encapsulates this phenomenon. It suggests that change and influence can start from the lower or seemingly less powerful parts of an organization and, over time, significantly impact the larger system.
Sinek is encouraging individuals to not underestimate the impact of positive leadership practices, even in small teams.
By focusing on these practices, you can initiate a chain reaction that not only enhances your immediate work environment but also has the potential to positively influence the broader organization.
How Long Does It Take for the Tail to Wag the Dog? Nobody Knows. But Do It Anyway.
You can’t predict how long it will take, but practice leadership anyway.
Simon Sinek says:
“And this is one of the hardest things I think young people struggle with, which is, we’re talking about a long-term mindset.
We’re talking about an infinite mindset here, which is, the speed at which it takes for the tail to wag the dog is unpredictable.
The reason a lot of businesses ignore all of my work is not because it’s wrong or they disagree.
It’s because they want it to work, on the day they want it to work.
Which is the exact same thing as saying to me, ‘Simon, I’m exercising, and I need to be healthy on this exact day, at this exact time.’
I’m like, I mean, maybe it will work out that way.
You know, it’s like every doctor will tell you if you work out 20 minutes a day, for the rest of your life, you’re going to be super healthy. Right?
But on what day you’re healthy? On what day your blood pressure gets better?
Sometimes quick, sometimes slow.
I don’t know.”
Simon Sinek is addressing a crucial mindset shift, particularly challenging for young professionals: the shift from a short-term to a long-term, or “infinite”, mindset.
He suggests that one of the key struggles for younger individuals in the workforce is embracing the unpredictability and patience required for long-term change and impact, especially in organizational culture and leadership.
Sinek likens the process of organizational change to personal health and fitness.
Just as you can’t predict the exact day and time when consistent exercise will manifest as improved health or lower blood pressure, the timeline for significant change within a business is equally unpredictable.
This is a fundamental reason why some businesses may be hesitant or dismissive of Sinek’s work.
It’s not a disagreement with the principles themselves, but rather an impatience for immediate results or a desire for change to happen on a fixed schedule.
The infinite mindset involves understanding and accepting that meaningful transformation, whether personal or organizational, is a gradual process.
It doesn’t adhere to a strict timeline and its effects may not be immediately visible.
This concept challenges the prevalent expectation of instant gratification or quick fixes, which is especially prevalent in modern business practices.
Sinek’s point underscores the importance of persistence and consistency over time.
Just as regular exercise contributes to long-term health benefits, consistent application of positive leadership and organizational practices will lead to a healthier, more sustainable business culture.
However, the exact timeline for these changes to become apparent is variable and requires a commitment to an ongoing process rather than a focus on immediate outcomes.
In essence, adopting an infinite mindset means committing to a journey without a fixed destination, understanding that the path itself is where the value lies, and the benefits, while certain, are not tied to a specific timeframe.
Leadership Works 100%, If You Commit to the Process
Leadership works. It always works. It works when you do it right and commit to the process.
You just don’t know how long it will take to create a wave of change.
Simon Sinek says:
“But you have to commit to the process.
And 100% of the time the process works.
But you just don’t know when.
And leadership is the same.
100% it works.
You just don’t know when.
People come quickly and people come slowly.
So, you may convert an entire organization in a year.
Or you may just simply build the momentum that it will continue without you, but you won’t get to see it change.
That’s possible, too.
So, but the most important thing is to commit to the regime, like brushing your teeth.
You know brushing your teeth everyday…brushing your teeth does nothing, unless you do it every day.
Can I take a night off?
Yes, you can.
It won’t do any damage.
How many nights can I take off?
I don’t know and neither does any dentist, just not too many. Right?
Commit to the regime.
Be the leader you wish you had.
Don’t worry about convincing other people.”
Simon Sinek is emphasizing the importance of commitment to a consistent process in leadership, similar to a daily regimen like brushing your teeth.
He posits that while the process of leadership is invariably effective, the timeline for seeing its results is unpredictable.
This is a crucial perspective shift from focusing on immediate outcomes to dedicating oneself to the ongoing practice of effective leadership behaviors.
Sinek suggests that the effectiveness of leadership, like any good habit, is not in sporadic or one-off actions but in consistent, daily practice.
Just as with dental hygiene, where the benefits of brushing your teeth accumulate over time through regular practice, leadership too requires a daily commitment to make a lasting impact.
You might see significant organizational change within a year, or you might set in motion a transformation that will continue to evolve even after you’ve moved on.
The key takeaway is that the time it takes for change to manifest can vary greatly among individuals and organizations.
The analogy with brushing teeth serves to underscore that regular, small actions are more impactful than occasional grand gestures.
Just as missing a night of tooth brushing won’t cause immediate harm but consistently neglecting dental hygiene will, sporadically practicing good leadership won’t yield substantial results.
It’s the regular, sustained effort that counts.
Sinek encourages leaders to focus on their own behavior and influence rather than trying to convert others to their way of thinking.
This reflects a focus on personal integrity and leading by example – being the leader you wish you had.
By committing to this personal leadership regimen, you influence your environment and contribute to a positive organizational culture, regardless of the immediate visibility of these changes.
Sinek is advocating for a long-term, consistent approach to leadership, where the commitment to daily practice is key to eventual success, even if the precise timeline and extent of the impact are uncertain.
Start a Leadership Movement
Simon Sinek’s “Be the Leader You Wish You Had” concept serves as a powerful call to action, urging us to take personal responsibility for the kind of leadership we exhibit, rather than focusing on the shortcomings of those above us.
It reminds us that true leadership is not about rank or authority, but about the impact we have on those around us, and the responsibility we hold to uplift, inspire, and create positive change.
This approach challenges us to embody the qualities of the leaders we admire, fostering a culture of empathy, support, and growth within our teams and organizations.
In doing so, we not only transform our own approach to leadership but also set a ripple effect in motion, potentially influencing broader organizational change and nurturing future leaders.
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