You may not have heard of Simon Sinek, ex-professor of strategic communications at Columbia University, who is better known to a wider global audience for his talks at TED conferences. His talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” has had over 37 million views. He produced a fascinating list based on his experiences called “10 Rules For Success”. I thought it might be helpful to translate his ideas for leadership teams driving mid-market companies – say $50m to $1 billion revenue level. This post covers Rules 1 to 5.

#1 Rule: Break The Rules

Thesis – You can go after anything you want, you just can’t deny anyone else. He is saying you don’t have to follow the way other people have done it before you. He’s not suggesting breaking the law. He is saying, do it your way. Ignore the way other people are doing it.

The most powerful and effective form of this thinking in business? – Positioning and then Strategic Execution. Don’t stand in someone else’s shoes. Choose your own path. Define what you can be remarkable at and go execute on achieving it. Don’t see the problems. See the opportunities. Often in business I see people acting as if there is only one rule to follow. For example the one way to build a website narrative, or the one way to run a department, or the one way to innovate. Playbooks are great ways to scale businesses but they need to reflect the best way for your company to succeed. Your rules not their rules.

#2 Train Your Mind

Thesis: How we react to stimuli dictates our performance. We all feel the pressure from stressful situations. Simon refers to the stress of an Olympian performing at her best or any elite athlete in any sport facing the expectations of their fans, or teammates.
When asked if they were nervous, the answer is often no, but they were excited. We can train ourselves to be excited not nervous.
Interestingly when I ran competitive track as a younger guy, reaching international level at 800m, I was way too nervous. As a masters athlete I’ve learned to treat my running as fun and to be excited about competing. Being in the top 10 to 20 in the world over the last 12 years reflects a more successful reaction to stimuli.

In business I see this mindset all the time. I see people underperform through nerves. Their reaction to the pressure turns negative bordering on panic. Chairing a meeting, speaking in front of a large audience, writing a key report, launching a new product are all real pressures that need to be embraced as opportunities. Opportunities to be excited about. Opportunities to make a difference. Don’t be nervous be excited!

#3 Be Patient

Thesis: Specifically geared at Millennials, but really it could be for any audience, Simon highlights the ridiculousness of people’s expectations on speed of success. It takes time to achieve success. In business, in relationships, in all walks of life. It takes patience.

I often joke about some of our clients being a 20 year overnight success! Being really good at what you do takes time. Whether one considers success at a company level or at a personal level, it needs patience. Google was an amazing company right from the get go. September, 1998 was the day Google was founded. The team created an amazing search product within the first few years. However one of the key algorithms to their success wasn’t created until 2004. And it never stops. A constant desire and patience to keep innovating. At a personal level, success requires putting in the hours. But they have to be smart hours. You have to be confident that you are learning the right stuff. And then take your time to quietly learn your trade.

#4 Take Accountability

Thesis: Simon uses the example from Europe where for over 100 years the mortality rate of women giving birth was rising at an alarming rate. In some hospitals the rate was reaching 70%. Until one doctor pointed out that doctors steeped in autopsies in the morning were then performing childbirths in the afternoon, without washing their hands between sessions! It took another 30 years before change happened, before accountability for their actions was owned.

Owning problems in business is an opportunity to add value. So often we promote managers who have survived by ducking accountability. By keeping a clean sheet. Be very cautious of a manager who hasn’t failed, or at least claims never to have failed. Don’t believe it. I do believe that a manager who hasn’t made a mistake is a manager that has never been held accountable.

#5 Outdo Yourself

Thesis: Simon introduces the concept of “Finite” and “Infinite” mindsets. The finite mindset obsesses about the competition. Microsoft worries about Apple. However Apple with an infinite mindset obsesses about being better than it was last week, last month, last year. Apple regards the competition as itself. Thus the concept of outdoing yourself. Companies with an infinite mindset want to be better versions of themselves.

My take for the mid-market business world is more nuanced. Of course you can’t ignore the competition. You need to be able to talk to customers about your competitive value proposition. Where I agree with the concept, is in the need to focus myopically on the future needs of customers, the needs of the market in the future , and therefore how you can get better at satisfying those needs. Bringing insight and clarity to the direction of your customer’s market is a game changer. It could you be your insight into the next wave of IoT, or 5th Generation wireless systems, or hyper-scale data centers or the aerospace supply chain. That insight brings huge value to your customers and of course allows you to sign off a strategic plan that has a high probability of success (as long as you are adhering to the principal of Strategic Execution (previous post).

Rules #6 to #10 next week.

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