I recently watched a TED talk from Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last and Start With Why. The title of the talk, “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe,” intrigued me. Creating a safe environment in small groups is a common topic on SmallGroups.com, and I wondered what Sinek might add to the conversation.
More than simply creating a safe environment, Sinek focuses on being a safe person—the kind of leader who people want to follow. After all, there’s a big difference between people who are in authority and people who lead. One’s power is based on position, while the other’s is based on his or her followers. The biggest difference, Sinek says, is trust.
Trust is such a slippery thing. A leader can’t simply say, “Trust me.” It takes time to build, a pattern of leading in a certain way. We trust the people who take care of us, who sacrifice for us, who see us as people with value. And when they do that, we do it right back: we take care of them, sacrifice for them, and see them as people with value.
But that’s not how many organizations work. It's common for leaders to sacrifice those under them for their own advancement. While many of Sinek’s examples come from the business world, there’s a lot for small-group leaders to learn. Sinek says,
It's the leader that sets the tone. When a leader makes the choice to put the safety and lives of the people inside the organization first, to sacrifice their comforts and sacrifice the tangible results, so that the people remain and feel safe and feel like they belong, remarkable things happen.
How does this apply to small-group leaders? How do we sacrifice our group members for results? I’ve seen it play out all too often, even in my own leadership.
I once led a group of brand-new believers. I wanted very badly to educate them on the basics of the faith, to help them jump into the Bible for the first time. It was a worthy goal. But in my quest to get through the study and teach them everything I knew they should learn, I missed many real-life teaching moments along the way. One week, a group member shared about a sticky situation with a boyfriend. She was troubled, not knowing how to handle it as a new believer. We briefly touched on her situation, and we prayed for her. And then we moved back to the study—we had questions to cover! I was worried about results more than my group members—even if I thought I was doing it for their own good.
A small-group pastor I know took over a dying ministry. He had high hopes for a new system for groups that would disciple people and grow a sense of community in his small church. But many of the existing leaders and coaches fought him every step of the way. So he asked them to step down, and he started the ministry from scratch. He was more focused on the results than the people in the ministry—and he missed an opportunity for discipleship and coaching in the process. How could his leaders ever trust him moving forward?
If we want healthy, thriving ministries, we have to be safe people that care more about the people of ministry than ministry results. Great leaders are like great parents, says Sinek. “They want to provide their people opportunity, education, discipline when necessary, build their self-confidence, give them the opportunity to try and fail, all so that they could achieve more than we could ever imagine for ourselves.”
Discipleship is hard, painful, vulnerable work. We need trustworthy leaders guiding us. When I’ve been led by a trustworthy, safe leader who has been willing to do the hard, painful, vulnerable work alongside me, I’ve grown in ways that I could not have imagined. Are you a trustworthy leader?
You can watch the full video below.
Share your thoughts in the comments: How can we become leaders who build trust with the people we lead?