Even in tough times, Simon Sinek is an optimist.

"Optimism is not a denial of the current state, it's a belief that the future is bright," the business coach and best-selling author of Start With Why (2009), Leaders Eat Last (2014), and The Infinite Game (2019) told Inc.com managing editor Lindsay Blakely in a Real Talk: Business Reboot virtual event Thursday. "I do fundamentally believe we will be better off because of this, not in spite of it."

During the hourlong conversation, Sinek explained how crisis is the "great revealer" and reaching out to employees is essential for leaders, as is listening and not always having all the answers.

What to Do When a Crisis Challenges Your 'Why'

A decade after Sinek published Start With Why, he still counsels his readers and clients that the "why" must remain the foundation of their business.

"It's normal for crises to shake our confidence," he says. "A crisis can put us off course, [but] it doesn't mean the 'why' has changed. It means we stopped focusing on it."

With many business owners having to pivot or otherwise adjust how they do business amid Covid-19, Sinek counsels you to remember that even if you're changing what you do, you must not change why you do it. 

Good Leadership in a Time of Uncertainty

In his role as a business coach, Sinek is often asked how leadership has changed during the multi-front crises of Covid-19, widespread unemployment, and social upheaval following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other African Americans at the hands of police officers.

His answer is that good leadership does not change, since the best leaders show up for their people, listen to their needs, and demonstrate courage--even if it's the courage to admit they're uncertain about what to do.

"The biggest mistake that leaders make is that they think they need to have all the answers," Sinek says.

Sinek advises managers or founders to check in on their people, especially now. "Not send[ing] an email that says, 'I'm here if you want me,' " he explains. "Pick up the phone!" 

He adds, "What would you do for a friend? Do that for your people. Listen. Make sure they feel heard. Take the time. You don't have to do it every day, but check in on people every now and again."

While your business has goals and targets to hit, a good leader understands that people have emotions. "There are human beings involved here," he says. "And human beings deal with trauma in different ways. There's no right and wrong here."

And, as Sinek says, remember: "Leadership is not about being in charge, it's about taking care of those in our charge." 

The Power of Listening

Sinek says that he's grateful for the Black Lives Matter movement since it has challenged him to become a better listener. "If you can have an uncomfortable conversation about race, you can have a conversation about anything," he says. 

For him, this moment has meant speaking about racism with his black friends and colleagues in ways they never have before. It also means sitting with the discomfort of actually listening to their experiences under structural racism. As one of his friends told him, "Black Lives Matter is new for you. It's not new for us." 

Optimist though he is, Sinek is as uncertain about the future as many of us. "The world will be different," he says, noting how our grandparents' experiences during World War II informed the rest of their lives and how our kids' experiences today will define theirs. 
"I have some hopes, I have some fears. But it's gonna be different."