Lisa DeAngelis, Director

UMass Boston | College of Management | Center for Collaborative Leadership

Three Tips to Building a High Performing Organization: Harness Strength, Increase Morale, Empower People


In 2014, Simon Sinek delivered a TedTalk on, “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe.” As the director of the Center for Collaborative Leadership, it is my goal to create an environment that inspires each person to fulfill their potential. And, in my role, I have the privilege of doing this with not only the center team, but also for the organizations and individuals we have the honor of partnering with.

If the idea of getting the best out of each person in your organization weren’t compelling enough for you, how about the frightening costs associated with not doing so. Costs such as employee turnover (currently estimated at 20% of a person’s salary), and the staggering lack of employee engagement (currently estimated at 85%).

While I would encourage you to watch the full TedTalk, below I’ve shared three of the principles he discusses. This is good fodder for leaders and aspiring leaders to consider.

  1. The dangers outside the organization aren’t going away. It’s the conditions inside the organization that matter.

Each day, organizations are faced with ‘dangers’ such as shifting regulations, a changing competitive landscape, and much more. For those familiar with the SWOT analysis methodology, these dangers are typically framed as either weaknesses or threats. And organizations invest a great deal of time and effort trying to shore up those perceived gaps. What Sinek is positing is that while it is important for us to understand our weaknesses and threats, we are better served to harness the organizations talents and energies on expanding our strengths and opportunities. Said differently, rather than focusing on what we cannot control (the external environment), we are better served to create the conditions inside the organization to succeed regardless. A twist on the SWOT methodology that I think helps with this reframing is SOAR methodology. This methodology replaces weaknesses and threats with Aspirations and Results. This framework gives the power back to the organization. What are our strengths? What are our opportunities? What are our aspirations? How will we measure our progress (What are the results we’re looking for?)?

  1. Employees are heart counts, not head counts. If you ever had hard times in your family, would you ever consider laying off one of your children?

The analogy Sinek is making here is to think about your employees as human beings rather than human resources. Sinek offers two compelling examples of organizations whose leadership refused to treat employees as commodities to be sacrificed. Importantly, in the second example he shares the positive impact this leader’s decision to implement a company-wide furlough program rather than lay-off’s, had on morale, productivity and financial results. The employees in these organizations know that they are valued members of a team and, when faced with adversity, these teams will rally to support the leader. Locally, we are reminded of two cases, Market Basket (see Market Basket: Workers risk it all for their boss) and PolarTec (see The Mensch Of Malden Mills) that exemplify this.

Sinek also contrasts the behavior of employees in two different organizations in the same industry with regard to how they treat their customers. In the first, the employee points to the repercussions on them if they deviate from company policy as the reason for their curt behavior. Whereas, employees in the second organization are known for actively working to ensure a positive customer experience. Sinek’s hypothesis for the difference, leaders in the latter organization have created an environment where the employees feel safe to take those risks.

  1. Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank.

I have said this often, title does not equate to leadership. To paraphrase Sinek, we acquiesce to authority because they have power over us; we follow leaders. There is a vast difference. Employees who do not view you as a leader will not expend ancillary effort nor will you benefit from their full potential. I have had the opportunity to work for and with some incredible leaders in my career. While I no longer work with them, I would still welcome their call and help them however I could. In each case, they created a clear and compelling vision, treated me with honesty and respect, and took an interest in my aspirations. And, I have been made a better leader by the talented individuals I’ve had the good fortune of working with. I hope those that work with me might say something similar.

This Ted Talk is a wonderful antithesis to the thinking, “People don’t leave organizations. They leave leaders.” People will stay with, and even follow, good leaders. How can you create an environment that inspires your employees to fulfill their potential?

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