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Sinek tells CUs: 'Be the leader you wish you had'
SAN FRANCISCO (7/2/14)--Positive leadership is like parenting, a keynote speaker told attendees at the America's Credit
Click to view larger image Leadership expert/author Simon Sinek challenges credit union executives to create a "circle of safety" to gain employees' trust and loyalty. True leaders, he says at the America's Credit Union Conference Tuesday, are those who put the needs of others before their own. (CUNA Photo)
Union Conference Tuesday. Leadership expert/author Simon Sinek challenged credit union executives to create a "circle of safety" to gain employees' trust and loyalty.
 
A title does not a leader make, Sinek quipped, adding that true leaders are those who put the needs of others before their own and willingly make sacrifices and take risks for the good of all.
 
Addressing the ACUC general session, Sinek said, "I know some people at the highest echelon who aren't leaders, and people at the lowest who are. It's all about looking out for others."
 
"The reward of leadership is to see others achieve more than you do," Sinek continued. "It's like being a parent."
 
As a parent would protect a child from danger, so must leaders shield employees from harm with what Sinek calls a "circle of safety."
 
When people feel safe, their natural disposition is toward cooperation and trust. When employees don't feel safe, they partake in nonproductive--even destructive--behavior.
 
"Leaders set the tone--they decide what environment you'll have," Sinek said. "If there's no circle of safety, people feel they have to protect themselves from each other. Anytime someone feels compelled to write a CYA email, this is a sign they don't feel safe from their own people--they're literally spending time to write an email to protect themselves as opposed to committing that time and energy to serve the organization."
 
"Our behavior is governed by our environment," he continued. "If there's a bad environment, people are capable of doing bad things. If it's good, they're capable of doing good things."
 
In a good work environment, the leader puts people before financial results in all but the most dire of circumstances. "A great leader would never sacrifice people to save the numbers," Sinek said. "A great leader would sacrifice the numbers to save the people. That's really important."
 
When the bottom line is prized above all else, people don't feel safe, they don't trust each other, and they know they're disposable. This is where credit unions have an advantage over their for-profit competitors, he said.
 
"Credit unions are human organizations," Sinek said. "This makes them empirically better than banks, which are all about the numbers. The credit union model has nothing to do with rates. It's a human enterprise, where you make sacrifices for the sake of employees and members. That's why I'm a credit union member."
 
Leadership takes daily practice, he added. "It's not an event, it's a 24-hour experience."
 
People can practice positive leadership every day by making others feel that they matter, Sinek said. "Be the leader you wish you had."

Sinek's speech also drew rave reviews on social media. Use the #ACUC hashtag on Twitter to listen in on the crowd's reaction, and visit News Now and Credit Union Magazine frequently this week to keep up with all the ACUC action in San Francisco.


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