There's a man by the name of Captain William Swenson who was awarded the congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on September 8, 2009.
On that day, a column of American and Afghan troops were making their way through a part of Afghanistan to help protect a group of Afghan government officials, who would be meeting with some local village elders.
The column came under ambush, and was surrounded on three sides, and amongst many other things, Captain Swenson was recognized for running into live fire to rescue the wounded and pull out the dead.
One of the people he rescued was a sergeant, and he and a comrade were making their way to a helicopter.
And what was remarkable about this day is, by sheer coincidence, one of the medics happened to have a GoPro camera on his helmet and captured the whole scene on camera.
It shows Captain Swenson and his comrade bringing this wounded soldier who had received a gunshot to the neck.
They put him in the helicopter, and then you see Captain Swenson bend over and give him a kiss before he turns around to rescue more.
I saw this, and I thought to myself, where do people like that come from? What is that? That is some deep, deep emotion, when you would want to do that.
There's a love there, and I wanted to know why is it that I don't have people that I work with like that?
You know, in the military, they give medals to people who are willing to sacrifice themselves so that others may gain. In business, we give bonuses to people who are willing to sacrifice others so that we may gain.
We have it backwards. Right?
So I asked myself, where do people like this come from? And my initial conclusion was that they're just better people. That's why they're attracted to the military. These better people are attracted to this concept of service.
But that's completely wrong.
Get the environment right
What I learned was that it's the environment, and if you get the environment right, every single one of us has the capacity to do these remarkable things, and more importantly, others have that capacity too.
I've had the great honour of getting to meet some of these, who we would call heroes, who have put themselves and put their lives at risk to save others, and I asked them, "Why would you do it? Why did you do it?"
And they all say the same thing: "Because they would have done it for me." It's this deep sense of trust and cooperation.
So trust and cooperation are really important here.
The problem with concepts of trust and cooperation is that they are feelings, they are not instructions.
I can't simply say to you, "Trust me," and you will. I can't simply instruct two people to cooperate, and they will.
It's not how it works. It's a feeling.
So where does that feeling come from?
Leader sets the tone
That's where leadership matters, because it's the leader that sets the tone.
When we feel safe inside the organisation, we will naturally combine our talents and our strengths and work tirelessly to face the dangers outside and seize the opportunities.
The closest analogy I can give to what a great leader is, is like being a parent.
If you think about what being a great parent is, what do you want? What makes a great parent?
We want to give our child opportunities, education, discipline them when necessary, all so that they can grow up and achieve more than we could for ourselves.
Great leaders want exactly the same thing.
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.
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.
They will give us their blood and sweat and tears to see that their leader's vision comes to life, and when we ask them, "Why would you do that? Why would you give your blood and sweat and tears for that person?" they all say the same thing: "Because they would have done it for me."
This is an extract of Simon Sinek’s TED talk “Why good leaders make you feel safe”. Watch the full video here.
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Picture credit: startwithwhy.com