Simon Sinek’s 2009 TED talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action has made lists of top leadership talks for years. The essence of his talk is that people are inspired by the purpose of an organization rather than its value proposition. He says, for example, that we buy Apple products not because they’re beautifully designed, but because Apple believes in challenging the status quo, and so do we.
I re-watched Sinek’s talk this week and did some thinking about my own businesses. It’s easy to see how Tango Training’s customers buy what I believe; when you buy a team building or leadership workshop from me, you are buying the belief that organizations should invest in their people’s development in a collective way, so that the team members reinforce each others’ new skill sets and behaviors. In a more general sense, when you buy leadership training from any company like mine, you are buying the belief that a company’s greatest assets are its people and we must develop those assets through activities like training, coaching and mentoring.
My other company, New England Crane School, is harder to put into this perspective. We help construction industry companies meet their safety and OSHA compliance goals. It’s important work, but it’s hard to feel inspired when you put it like that. Sinek says we must move from describing the “what” of the organization to the “why,” and yet, the why of safety training is clearly reactive; we don’t like it when people get hurt or killed, and we don’t like it when companies get fined or sued. Perhaps it sounds like tedious, obligatory work, and yet, that’s not how it feels to me.
So I did some thinking about that, and realized that what we believe is simple: we believe it shouldn’t be any more threatening, uncomfortable or humiliating than it has to be for crane operators to prove their competence and keep their jobs. We believe it’s important–overdue, in fact–for OSHA to require crane operators to be certified in order to improve public safety, but at the same time, we get that it can be downright terrifying for a 30-year career operator to be told he has to take written exams, and if he fails them, he’s out of work. We believe we should make this as painless as possible, and that’s why I have been thrilled so far this season when every class of operators has passed every single exam. We’ve put years into perfecting our prep classes and now it’s finally paying off. Of the 20 or so operators we’ve certified so far this winter, I have not had to tell a single one of them that they have to come back and take the test again. There’s nothing like seeing the look on an operator’s face when you tell him the ordeal is finally over.
So perhaps you could say that what I believe is we are in the customer service business, not the safety business. That may still be a pretty reactive “why,” but I guess you’d have to be a crane operator to appreciate its importance.