How to Have an Effective Strategic Discussion

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Leaders Eat Last" by Simon Sinek. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are your employees unwilling to collaborate? What can you, as a leader do, to encourage collaboration in your organization?

The key to fostering collaboration in your organization is to nurture a higher purpose. When you and your subordinates are devoted to fulfilling this kind of purpose, the possibility that you’ll fail to do so becomes enough of a threat to encourage collaboration and strengthen the supportive environment.

Here’s how having a higher purpose unites teams.

Simon Sinek: A Higher Purpose Inspires Collaboration

In his book Leaders Eat Last, Sinek explains that a higher purpose is similar to a long-term goal in that it takes time and company-wide cooperation to complete. However, higher purposes are more abstract than long-term goals: They usually provide a sense of meaning beyond making profits or dominating a field, and they don’t have concrete timelines for completion.

Sinek explains that there are two conditions your higher purpose must meet to effectively encourage collaboration in your organization:

1. Your company can’t currently have the resources to fulfill the higher purpose. If your higher purpose is easily fulfilled, Sinek says it doesn’t provide the necessary pressure to inspire cooperation and oxytocin production. Your company needs to continually struggle to fulfill the higher purpose. This struggle applies constant external pressure, which inspires your subordinates to collaborate and experiment with innovative ways of fulfilling the higher purpose.

The Positive Pressure of Creative Tension

The constant external pressure caused by an unfulfilled higher purpose is also called “creative tension.” Creative tension motivates you to complete your goals through cognitive dissonance: You know what you want to do, and you know that you’re not currently doing it. Your brain dislikes this contrast and motivates you to close the gap between your desires and reality. 

You can encourage this powerful motivational tool in yourself by clearly articulating your higher purpose and the ways your current reality contrasts that purpose. Articulating this in writing can be helpful because writing forces your brain to be detailed and look at your ideas in new and creative ways. It also helps you remember your goals better, which means your creative tension and motivation will last longer.

2. The higher purpose must serve others. Selflessness is an important element of an effective higher purpose because it’s inspirational, and inspired people work harder and are more dedicated. Sinek implies that helping others is inspirational because it prompts your brain to release higher levels of oxytocin. The happy feelings oxytocin provides motivate you and your subordinates to continue working hard and helping others.

On the other hand, selfish goals, like becoming a leader in your industry or making a certain amount of profit, won’t inspire your employees because that goal only benefits the company, which doesn’t release oxytocin.

Can Selfish Goals Inspire Employees?

Sinek says that selfish goals can’t inspire employees to work harder or be more dedicated. However, Nassim Nicholas Taleb argues in Skin in the Game that this depends on the employees’ compensation model: Employees with a fixed salary aren’t directly affected by generating more profit for the company, so they’re not motivated to do so. By this logic, employees who rely on commissions are motivated to gain more money—their pay is less secure, so they work harder and more efficiently. Thus, it is possible to motivate employees with a selfish goal.

However, this is motivation caused by financial reward, rather than inspiration, which is caused by oxytocin. Whereas the hard work and dedication caused by motivation only last as long as the monetary benefits do, inspiration provides long-term motivation that’s based on helping others and overall happiness. Thus, focus on encouraging inspiration to motivate employees long-term, rather than relying on a financial incentive: They’ll be happier and more productive regardless of their compensation model.
How to Encourage Collaboration in Your Organization

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  • Why a leader must prioritize her subordinates’ needs above her own
  • How empathy and support can be strong managerial tools
  • Why you must see your customers, suppliers, and employees as people

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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