By: Darren Virassammy
In his book, Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek continues his quest to inspire action in people (which he successfully did in my life…more to come on that in another post). In this book he explains something very simple, yet critical to us as humans…the Circle of Safety. Simon illustrates the Circle of Safety (pictured above) through the following simple story:
A lion used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.
-Aesop, sixth century B.C.
Although our threats may differ from the oxen, we do face threats every day, whether it is job security, competition, conflict, or perhaps even new technology. As Simon notes, these dangers are a constant and are never truly going to go away. The Circle of Safety that we create is rooted in trust. Simon explains:” Only when we feel we are in a Circle of Safety will we pull together as a unified team, better able to survive and thrive regardless of the conditions outside.”
Creating The Circle of Safety – Talent Alignment
So…with this awareness of the Circle of Safety, where do strengths come into play? Don’t we feel safe when we know that the best person is in the right role? Imagine for a moment the American Sport of Football. A quarterback has his top wide receiver and center on the field with him. Playing their roles properly in their zones of talent, the Center protects the Quarterback from the large charging defensive linemen just a few feet away…giving the quarterback time to pass the ball to the star wide receiver quickly sprinting down the field to receive the quarterback’s pass and score.
Now, Imagine the same scenario, but the center and wide receiver now switch positions…that tall, lean, receiver is now playing the center role and the bulky center is now playing the wide receiver role. The quarterback no longer feels safe…The receiver does not feel safe as he is in a position where his talent is mismatched…the same holds true for the center who is “sprinting” down the field at a highly unimpressive pace, while the quarterback gets crushed as defensive linemen smash right through the ill-positioned receiver.
Intrinsically, we often understand strengths at play in the context of sports. We understand that making everyone well-rounded at everything is NOT the path to greatness for sports teams, but focusing on developing around people’s natural talent actually is! How about our numerous teams that are not on a field of play? Our work groups, committees that we chair, organizations that we are a part of, or even at home with our friends and families are all opportunities for teamwork!
In the Oxen and Lion story above, once their circle of safety was broken, the Oxen saw their strength diminish immediately. When in the Circle of Safety…”We” is the protector of “Me.” When looking out for what is best for “We”…”Me,” inevitably is taken care of. The Circle of Safety and establishing it within our teams is the breeding ground for interdependence…As Strengths Strategy eloquently reminds us, Interdependence is a mindset of: “I serve us so we can serve others.”
So since we are not catching touchdown passes, or fighting off lions in a field (hopefully)…what is the circle of safety on a team that we may encounter?
The Circle of Safety: Protection For All
In surviving the economic downturn of 2009, I remember a feeling of safety at a job, when the economy signaled otherwise, simply because of the owner’s actions. As business slowed to a scary pace for us, the fear of being without a job became very real for many of us. I had recently graduated with my MBA from UC Davis and was not excited by the prospect of losing my job and becoming another casualty of the economy. The owner who had built his company from the ground up for nearly a decade felt this fear as well. He seemingly placed a value on his employees who had stood by him through thick and thin in the building of his company. He called each employee into his office and met one on one, indicating that everyone would be taking a 20% pay-cut (including himself) until business was in a position to correct incomes to their previous rates. He explained that he valued every employee and what they brought to the table, and would rather see a little sacrifice across the board for everyone, so we could all stay onboard and keep the ship sailing. In a time of rampant uncertainty, this stuck with me as I thanked him walking out of his office after having just received a pay-cut. I watched several other co-workers go through the same exercise over the next day.
The backroom, fearful conversations in the hallways were non-existent at this point, because, despite the unknowns we all felt that the tribe was united to fight through to brighter days…even though we had no idea when they would arrive. We spoke openly at our weekly team meetings. We shared a common goal to protect the business that we had collectively worked together to build. Because we felt safe, we stayed focused on doing what we all did best, taking care of each other, providing top-notch service to our clients, and ultimately surviving as a tribe. We prevailed, and within 6 months, everyone’s income levels returned to their previous levels, as he promised. Rooted in the circle of Safety is this magical concept called trust. Trust is what allowed us to enter into the unknown, rebuild, and survive to the other side. Trust is what took place when the business had returned and in one of our weekly meetings, the owner proudly announced that pay levels would be restored thanks to “We” that allowed us to survive and right the ship.
So where are your circles of safety, and where are your opportunities to create circles of safety? How do your strengths and others strengths play into creating this? Teams rooted in trust can easily act in the best interest of We and giving people the opportunity to utilize all of their talents is a great way to further strengthen trust. SO again I ask…where are your circles of Safety and how can your strengths and others strengths fortify trust on your teams to establish the circle of safety?
P.S. For more on the Circle of Safety and Leaders Eat Last, take a 12 minute vacation and check out Simon’s talk: “Why good leaders make you feel safe” right here.
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Darren Virassammy is Co-Founder and COO of 34 Strong Inc. a leader in Employee Engagement training and consulting. 34 Strong works with organizations across the United States in developing teams around talent to optimize performance and maximize results. His Top Five are: Achiever, Arranger Relator, Learner, Responsibility. You can connect with him on LinkedIn, or Twitter.
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This post was originally published in December of 2014 and updated 11/8/2017
Photo credits: stockphotosecrets.com