ARLINGTON, Va. -- What can a motivational speaker from the private sector teach the Army about leadership? Maybe more than we think. Building effective teams, whether in business or the military, is about building trust, says Simon Sinek, the best-selling author of "Start With Why." Sinek brought his perspective on leadership to senior-ranking Army leaders during the Army Profession Forum, Dec. 11, in Arlington, Va.
In his latest book, "The Infinite Game," Sinek distills the essentials of leading with an "infinite mindset," or leading with a long-term view, to five practices. One of them, Building Trusting Teams, refers to the psychological safety people must feel if they are to perform at their best within a team.
Officers and NCOs in a unit have to feel safe enough to say: "I made a mistake," "I don't feel qualified to do the job I'm being asked to do," "I'm scared," "I need help," he said during the forum.
Psychological safety is the foundation for establishing trust within a team. It is a "biological and anthropological concept" that is not up for debate, Sinek said in an interview. Without psychological safety, trusting teams will not develop.
"That is the root of all friendships, relationships, trusting teams. It's the root of human relationships: our ability to trust other people with our lives, with our frailty, with our insecurity," he said.
If Soldiers don't feel they can admit to making mistakes or to needing help, that is a leadership failure.
"Leaders need to create an environment where their Soldiers can express themselves and that leader will listen and make them feel heard…" Sinek said.
Another challenge for Army leaders is creating environments free from sexual assault. To do so, leaders need to look at the root cause of the problem, Sinek said. Although sexual assault is present in society at large, military culture is "different from society" he said. People in the military are inculcated into a new, military culture, and thus the culture "bears some responsibilities" when it comes to the problem of sexual assault.
Sinek said leaders need to consider how people achieve their goals, not just that they achieved them. As such, he cautioned against tolerating "high performers with low trust," who are often toxic team members or leaders. They may produce results in the short term, but in the long term they undermine the entire organization. He said if these people are not coachable, they must be removed from the team.
In his book, Sinek also talks about "Demonstrating the Courage to Lead." While courageous leadership is easy to identify in combat, what does it look like day-to-day? Sinek pointed to the message given by Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville, who hosted the APF along with the Secretary of the Army and the Sergeant Major of the Army. McConville emphasized leaders' responsibility to "do the right thing, the right way." Sinek said that is a courageous task in the face of daily stressors like peer pressure, the pressure from our own egos and insecurity, or the pressure from a boss to produce results.
"To do the right thing requires overwhelming courage," Sinek said.