In Leadership

Leadership is a skill that can be learned and improved. The article below shares four key secret skills of great leaders. CK

Article written by Jeff Steen originally appeared in on September 8, 2020.

The first time I saw Simon Sinek give a TED Talk, I was mesmerized. But it wasn’t just his energetic delivery or evident passion that reeled me in — it was the way in which he laid out his message. There was something decidedly different about how he addressed endemic issues in the business world (and society in general).

Leaving aside his passion and energy — undeniable draws in themselves — I endeavored to break down Sinek’s own process, Sinek-style. What I uncovered was not surprising, complicated, or radical. But it was empowering in its stark simplicity.

You see, we love Sinek because he uses a relatable and easy-to-follow process for problem-solving that involves four steps:

1. Observe.

Just occasionally, we’ll make a temporary habit of soaking in the world around us — people’s behaviors, patterns of speech, actions, reactions, and so on. After all, we are relational creatures who define ourselves and our world based on how we are perceived and engaged by others.

If we are truly observant, we know how to shape ourselves and our world to elicit happiness and various forms of success for others. Indeed, our own success is directly connected to how others respond to what we do — employees, customers, and investors among them. Ever observant, we can create products and services that people actually need, instead of things we think they need.

CEOs who don’t observe the outside world spin in endless cycles of their own fancy, draining resources until their companies are underwater, simply so they can live out their own fantasies.

2. Be self-aware.

While you can observe others all day long and note what makes them happy, your response to that observation carries with it inherent biases, opinions, and perspectives that affect the final product. Make a point to recognize these tendencies so you can dismantle them before they derail your product creation and strategy.

Here’s a (fictional) example: Let’s say the Slack creative team meets to talk about how they can make their platform a tool that more effectively bridges professional and personal use. The team’s members, being regular users of their own product, love to get updates on tech news — and believe that users also like to be informed about such things. So, they build in automatic notifications on tech-related news that users see whenever they’re using the platform.

The problem, unfortunately, is that not all Slack users are technophiles. In fact, many aren’t interested in getting updates about the tech world at all. Even more annoyingly, they can’t find a way to turn them off and this, in turn, negatively affects their opinion of the platform.

3. Analyze.

This step is fairly obvious after the previous two, but it’s worth calling out. Being aware of what’s happening in the world around you and what your own assumptions/biases are is all well and good, but then you have to spend some time unraveling it. You can start by asking a few simple questions:

  • Why do these behaviors — my own or those of others — exist? Where do they come from?

  • How can my observations and reflections be ethically used in a business environment to inform my communication, product/service development, and strategy?

The tools for analysis are many and depend largely on your industry and market. However, any consumer behavior data is a good place to start. Trends and patterns will reveal when behaviors began, which can be correlated to larger events or societal shifts. Additionally, consideration of your own life changes will uncover truths about changes in your own behavior, thought patterns, or actions.

4. Be vulnerable.

This sounds odd in a society that lauds strong leaders, but success is always girded by vulnerability. So, be vulnerable. I’m not talking about divulging deep, dark secrets, but rather revealing personal process and missteps so others have an opportunity to relate.

These missteps often lead to revelation — moments when fumbles redound to our benefit because we’re paying attention to what unfolded in their wake.

A final example: A CEO prepares a quarterly address to his company. He has always wanted to embrace inclusion and be more proactive about diversifying his employee base; in fact, he has outlined steps to move his company in this direction.

But in the weeks before his address, unending notes from investors about what to include in his talk flood his mind. As a result, he delivers an address that’s mostly about numbers — even as he stares out into a sea of mostly white, mostly male faces. It dawns on him halfway through his quarterly summary that this was not what he wanted to say.

After the talk is finished, he sends a note to all employees acknowledging the absence of any mention of inclusion or diversification during the address and committing to step-by-step changes in the quarters ahead.

Mistake made, but addressed head-on with progress in its wake.

I’ll close with this: The above is not a “one and done” process. These steps must be constantly revisited as we move ahead. While that sounds like a great deal of work, the good news is the more we do it, the more it becomes second nature to us and the easier growth becomes.

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