Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe : An Analysis


It has long been agreed upon that great leadership is vital for optimal performance. Regardless of the situation or context, effective management is necessary for achieving objectives. However, contention arises when it comes to defining what entails ideal guidance. Indeed, a range of ideas exists on the issue, some of which contradict each other. Nevertheless, one compelling position on the debate is that distinction needs to be made between leadership and authority and that the former is based on trust and co-operation (Sinek, 2014).

The Difference Between Being a Leader and Having Authority

In a TED talk recorded in March 2014, Simon Sinek, an expert on the matter, explains points in favor of his proposition that it is vital to differentiate good leadership from holding a position of authority. Apparently, having power over an individual only means that he or she is required to obey any orders or instructions that are issued (Sinek, 2014). On the other hand, being a true leader means that the person in charge is willing to use his or her influence to ensure that everybody under his or her care is protected taken care of (Sinek 2014). Therefore, by such definition, it is clear that not all persons who have some level of authority are necessarily leaders.

Other experts in the field appear to verify Sinek’s assertions. According to Stauffer (2014), those who offer good management make their subordinates feel safe and want to follow them without having to tell them what to do. Similarly, Heifetz (1994) feels that the idea of leadership is trivialized when it is referred to as merely social influence. Furthermore, it can be formal or informal unlike power, which is conferred and recognized legitimatelyby everybody in the context (Heifetz, 1994). However, Heifetz(1994) also argues that authority could lose its credibility if it demonstrates leadership, which directly contradicts Sinek’s main assertion that individuals who hold power need to show more leadership.

Origins of Leadership

Also in his talk, Sinek (2014) traces the origins of leadership to prehistoric times. Apparently during the era, early man had to contend with a harsh environment, which was filled with many dangerous elements, such as the weather, predators, and the need to find food (Sinek, 2014). Hence, in order to survive, he became a social being who chose to trust and co-operate with others of his kind so that they could achieve a common goal (SInek, 2014). Ultimately, the two features were passed on throughout time and are responsible for feelings of safety, and they continue characterize leadership even today.

Academic literature on the topic supports Sinek’s claims. According to Mumford (1906), leaders became necessary at different levels when sociological structures evolved and became more complex. Consequently, individuals who could wield influence over their peers and offer them a sense of direction were looked upon to do so and therein emerged the concept of authority (Mumford, 1906). King, Johnson and Vugt (2009) also concur, adding that the phenomenon of guidance exists in other social species as well, and is crucial to their survival. Lastly, King and Cowlishaw (2009) propose that leaders always emerge in a society, and a specific set of characteristics is always observed in them

Parenthood as the Ideal Model for Leadership

Aside from his other assertions, Sinek (2014) identifies parenthood as the ideal model of leadership. Apparently, a parent’s focus is on providing opportunities for his or her child, giving discipline, and making sure that the child is able to achieve all that is possible. In the same way, those in authority are urged to emulate such a model in order for their subordinates to perform exceptionally (Sinek, 2014).

As pertains to leadership, several different ideas exist concerning which the best style is. Firstly, the managerial grid model uses a set of variables to analyze where an authority figure lies with regard to his or her need for targets to be reached as well as his or her concern for the wellbeing of subordinates (Nahavandi, 2009). From it, two dominant styles arise, employee oriented and target oriented styles of management, and a good leader can be either of the two but not both.  Secondly, the four-framework theory suggests that all people in power operate in one of four leadership spectrums: political, human resources, structural, and symbolic (Nahavandi, 2009). Apparently, a different set of characteristics is necessary for success in each field. Finally, the situational leadership school of thought purports that guidance is dependent on the context (Nahavandi, 2009).

Why People Resent Authority Figures

Arguably, the most conspicuous claim made by Sinek (2014) is that individuals resent their leaders because they have failed to provide a safe environment for cooperation. Apparently, capitalist managers today are more concerned with profits, even if they must sacrifice their employees in order to do so. Consequently, a culture of distrust and fear is created. However, Sinek fails to consider that resentment could occur because of issues that have very little to do with the style of management, for example personal prejudices, culture of rebellion, inferiority complexes, and feelings of helplessness (Kashtan, 2012)


In summary, Sinek makes a very compelling case for caring leadership. Clearly, the idea that society requires guidance that is more selfless bears merit. Furthermore, the use of parenthood as a guiding model for what managers should be like is inspired. Nonetheless, his argument is too simplistic to apply to all situations in which authority is required. In addition, Sinek’s position is one-dimensional and fails to account for an authority figure’s other responsibilities, aside from the wellbeing of his or her subordinates.



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