3 Actionable Insights from… Simon Sinek

‘Put the customer at the front of the equation, not yourself’

Simon Sinek is a wise human being. He taught us that organizations can only truly inspire if they “start with why”. He taught us that leaders eat last. And now, he is teaching us how leaders should behave in the age of Covid. Here are the three top actions he recommends:

1. Double down on ‘good leadership’.

“Human instincts kicked in when it was a global pandemic. So whether somebody was considered a good leader or an ineffective leader previously, as soon as Covid happened they picked up the phone and called their people one-by-one and said, ‘are you OK?’ And when Black Lives Matters happened, a lot of people, whether they were a good leader or an ineffective leader, picked up the phone. They called their African American colleagues and said, ‘are you OK?‘ Or ‘do you need to talk?‘ Or ‘I need your advice’.

“The funny thing is, that‘s just good leadership. My question is: why weren‘t you doing that before? If somebody was struggling, why did you yell at them instead of just calling them up and saying, ‘are you OK?’ Or why weren‘t you just calling your people at random and saying, ‘just checking in’. That‘s just good leadership.

“So there‘s a lot of human instinct that kicked in when the stakes felt higher. Go do that. Double down on good leadership – which means consider the wellbeing of human beings before you consider their performance and their results.”

2. Put the customer at the front of the equation, not yourself.

“The companies that are struggling to pivot right now have put themselves at the center of the equation. They say, ‘how can we make more money?‘ Or, ‘how can we save ourselves?’ The companies that are really doing a good job at everything right now have put their customer at the center of the equation. They are saying, ‘we have really important, valuable things’.

“I‘ll give you one of my favorite examples. There‘s a pizza place in Chicago called Dimo’s Pizza. Dimo’s made 70% of its revenues from selling slices. Covid hits and Dimo‘s says: ‘Shit, we‘re not equipped for home delivery. We‘re a slice place. What are we going to do?’ Any other pizza place would say: ‘We have a pizza oven. All we can do is make pizzas. We’re done for.’ But that’s not what it did. Instead, it says: ‘We have resources. What can we do with a pizza oven?’ It turns out pizza ovens burn much hotter than regular ovens, so it can bend industrial grade plastic. What it did was start taking sheets of industrial grade plastic and making face shields for healthcare workers, and then it delivered them in pizza boxes.

“Real innovation isn’t asking, ’what can a pizza oven make?’ It’s asking, ’what can an oven make?’ This goes for people too. It should be, ‘I’ve got a lot of smart people, what can they do?’ It’s not, ‘what can my accountant do because accountants can only do accounting’. Or ’what can my engineer do because engineers can only do engineering’. It is ’what can smart people do when we give them a customer-focused problem?’

“‘How can I sell more pizza?’ is putting the company at the center of the equation. And that’s what a lot of companies are doing. ‘How can we sell more? We’ve got to survive.’ But what Dimo’s did is: ‘Shit, people need something. How can we fulfill a need? We have resources. Can we fulfill that need with our resources? Turns out we can completely reinvent and buy nothing.’ I love that. And that only happens when you have an external focus, when you have a giving mentality.”

3. It doesn't matter how mature your company or your industry is, you are a startup.

“The companies that are struggling to pivot are trying to do what they’ve always done in this environment. The companies that are doing a good job of pivoting are saying: ‘OK, throw the old playbook out and let’s pretend we’re a startup. How would we start up our business today?’ This is why Tesla is so much further ahead with electric cars than all the car companies.

“You would think car companies would be ahead because they know how to build a car, but that was the problem. They took what they used to know and tried to make an electric car. Tesla started from scratch and said: ‘We don't know anything about how to make a car. What would we do if we’re starting now?’ And it turns out it’s like five years ahead of everybody.

“So that mentality, that startup mentality, is very scary because all the people who were at the top of the organizations, all the decision makers, they got there by sticking to the plan they’ve been doing for 20 years. Now we’re telling them, ‘yeah, I know, but stop doing that”.

Simon Sinek is an unshakable optimist, New York Times best-selling author, TED Talk all-star, provider of ‘a bit of optimism’ via his podcast and an online professor.

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