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Are You Leading Your People, or Just Running a Company?

Best-selling leadership author Simon Sinek explains 5 ways to really look after your employees.
Simon Sinek

After safely leading 22 members of the Air Force through combat in 2002, Lieutenant Colonel Mike "Johnny Bravo" Drowley, an airman in the United States Air Force, told best-selling leadership author Simon Sinek that there are fates worse than death: accidentally killing one of your own men, or going home alive when one or more of your men does not.  

That mindset--total devotion to your people--translates into a crucial leadership lesson to those individuals who are in charge of different kinds of "troops:" entrepreneurs.

"Johnny Bravo commands the kind of loyalty the rest of us couldn't buy," says Sinek, in remarks that kicked off the Inc. 500|5000 conference Thursday morning. "Without a doubt, he will be there for them. This is how trust is formed."

Sinek, the author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, challenges entrepreneurs to build similar loyalty and trust with employees. 

"Because you own the company, you're the boss," said Sinek. "But you're not a leader until you make it your job to look after others."

To begin truly looking after your team (to do more than just run your company), ask yourself two questions: "Why are you building a business in the first place?" and, "At the end of your life, what do you want to be the reason you built your business?"

Here's five ways Sinek says you can turn your answer to this question into day-to-day action:

Roam the halls.

Talk with your employees. In person. Don't hide behind technology. If you're sending out e-mails to find out how people are doing, you're not listening.

Recognize good work publicly.

Sure, sometimes you need to discipline employees, but--when they do a nice job--let them, and the whole team, know it. Small acts of kindness go a long way.

Tell the personal story of how you got started--often.

Sinek points out that the best businesses are founded to address real human problems--problems entrepreneurs have passion for. Let your employees know how the original idea came to be, and all the challenges you faced plowing ahead in spite of them. Create lore.

Mark what you represent.

Sinek is a big believer in symbolism. The more you stand for something, the more your logo--and other markers--serve as a symbol to employees of who you are. For this reason, also consider the power of your company's color theme, and, for example, the clothes you choose to wear.

Give employees responsibility.

Next time an employee asks you a question, respond with a question: "What do you think we should do?" Don't just dictate the course of action. Train employees and give them the skills they need to be decision makers, and then give them the ability--and responsibility--to fail. Start by doing this in circumstances when a failure's consequences won't be so detrimental.

"Your company exists not to make money," says Sinek. "Your company exists to advance something, to do something more--and it should be for other human beings."

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Last updated: Oct 4, 2012

ALLISON FASS | Staff Writer | Deputy Editor, Inc.com

Allison Fass is deputy editor of Inc.com. A longtime business journalist at Forbes and The New York Times, she has also held roles in venture capital and innovation at Hearst Interactive Media and digital strategy at a start-up consultancy.




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