In this video – see below – of Simon Sinek’s TED Talk – is essentially talking about leadership being concerned with seeing people as the most essential part of an organization’s machinery. Sinek says that there is a difference between those leaders that sacrifice others to be recognized and those who sacrifice themselves for others to be recognized. Now, while he does not actually talk about schools, but rather business-type organizations, it cannot be denied, I think, that schools are businesses anyhow – just run differently, with its customers being children and parents.
Simon Sinek: Why good leaders make you feel safe
This notion of a leader being one that sacrifices for those hierarchically below him or her is actually at the heart of what I believe leadership is all about. I have recently made a short contribution to a potential book on leadership, asking teachers what one piece of advice would be for a prospective young leader. Whilst there are obviously many different pieces of advice one could give, one that springs to mind is that we are, as Sinek himself says, social animals. We thrive when we feel safe and our strengths are recognized. A leader that looks out to his/her employees, recognizes their strengths and builds upon them is the one that they’re going to follow. A leader that sacrifices himself/herself for his/her employees is the one they’re going to follow – you know, the one who they know will be there for them when things go bad. At the end of the day, the school – or any other organization – where you feel secure as a worker, and more importantly as a human being – is the one you will do absolute everything for. That’s what will get you out of bed at 6am in the morning, because you know you want to be there. And you want to contribute. Teachers, in my experience, the vast majority of them are naturally quite devoted and often idealistic when it comes to teaching children – we’re like parents who never give up on them, regardless of where they are. But that energy is easily depleted if the working environment is not conducive and hostile to fulfilling that goal.
I found Sinek’s question: why would you lay off staff if they’re struggling? Would you lay off your children if they came back home with a C?
In that meaning, a leader is like a parent – a father-like or mother-like figure – who goes out of their way to constantly improve the lives of his/her employees. And in doing so, bringing improvements to the lives of their school children. I’ve known a few school leaders like this. They were amazing and created some of the best workplaces I’ve ever worked at. The working climate and optimism permeated the places – that is, they have set the tone for the places. They were giving and they were getting back.
Sinek’s talk has certainly made me feel that one day, perhaps, I would like to be that kind of a leader.