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The Positive Power of Your Team's Darkest Days

Leadership expert Simon Sinek appeared at TED 2014 to offer a story of struggles, leadership and compassion.
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When leadership expert Simon Sinek began to study why it is that military heroes so readily put themselves at risk to save others, he first concluded it's simply because they're morally superior people. 

But after speaking with some of these men and women, he came to a different conclusion. "What I learned is that it's the environment, and if you get the environment right, every single one of us has the capacity to do these remarkable things," Sinek said Friday at the TED 2014 conference in Vancouver, Canada. 

Sinek, who is the author of the book "Leaders East Last," studies leadership in different settings. His previous TED talk on inspiring action has been watched more than 16 million times. 

He went on to describe how the environment at one particular company during a time of mass revenue losses ended up inciting camaraderie and compassion amongst its employees. Equally surprising, morale even received a boost during this time.

In 2008, the St. Louis-based manufacturing company Barry-Wehmiller suddenly lost 30 percent of their orders due to the effects of the recession, Sinek said. The company needed to save millions, so the board and the company's CEO Bob Chapman got together to discuss layoffs.  

In the end, Chapman refused to let anyone go, so he and the board devised a furlough program, through which every employee would be required to take four weeks of unpaid vacation. "But it was how Bob announced the program that mattered so much," Sinek said. "He said, 'It's better that we should all suffer a little than any of us should have to suffer a lot.'"  

The creation of the program at least meant that everyone was safe, and this established security unexpectedly triggered several effects. "Morale went up. They saved $20 million. And most importantly -- as would be expected when the people feel safe and proceed by the leadership in the organization -- the natural reaction is to trust and cooperate," Sinek said. 

For example, employees began to trade their furloughed time with each other. Those who could afford to take a longer unpaid vacation acquired a week or two of unpaid vacation time from those who couldn't afford it. 

So what is the common sentiment amongst individuals in these environments -- whether out in the battlefield or at a manufacturing plant? Why are they all willing to sacrifice for one another? Recalling his conversations with military heroes, Sinek said they all said the same thing of one another:  "Because they would have done it for me."

Last updated: Mar 21, 2014

LAURA MONTINI | Staff Writer

Laura Montini is a reporter at Inc. She previously covered health care technology for Health 2.0 News and has served as an associate editor at The Health Care Blog. She lives in San Francisco.




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