The Circle of Trust: How Good Leaders Make Their Team Feel Safe

What makes a great business leader? This is a question we deal with frequently at Advisory Works as we work with organisational leaders to help them build trust, encourage innovation, develop people, and execute vision.

Management theorist Simon Sinek (author of Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, and Leaders Eat Last) suggests a great business leader is someone who makes their employees feel secure, who draws their team into a circle of trust.

An ethnographer by training, Sinek is an adjunct of the RAND Corporation. He writes and comments regularly for major publications and teaches graduate-level strategic communications at Columbia University. Sinek gave a TED talk earlier this year about how leaders make their team feel safe. You can watch Simon’s talk here.

“In the military, medals are given to those who sacrifice their lives so that others may gain. But in the business world, we’re often quick to hand out a bonus to someone willing to sacrifice others, so that we may gain.” - Simon Sinek

Why is this? It’s not that anyone in business is inherently “bad.” When Sinek asked soldiers why they would risk their lives to save others, they answer, “Because they would do it for me.” That is trust in it’s purest form, and a kind of trust that isn’t often present in a company.

Simon explains his circle of trust as an ancient tribe. If you look back 50,000 years ago to the Paleolithic era, the world was filled with danger for primitive humans. Resources were scarce, environments were harsh, sabre-toothed tigers lurked around every corner. Humans found safety by working together and forming tribes. This is the circle of safety – you could fall asleep at night trusting someone else in your tribe will watch out for danger.

The modern business world isn’t that dissimilar to the Paleolithic. There are dangers and unknowns: the ups and downs of the economy, new technological innovations disrupting industries, competitors working to frustrate your growth. As business leaders, we have no control over these forces. The only variable we do control are conditions inside the organisation, and that’s why leadership matters.

As business leaders, we should put the safety of our tribe as our highest priority. When people feel safe at work – that their job is secure, that their leaders respect and value them, that their work has value – they are able to work together to face danger and seize opportunities.


Here at Advisory Works, we agree that the leader has an invaluable impact on their environment. Trust comes from the environment leaders create – the circle of safety. Your team knows you will sacrifice the numbers to save the people. That’s a powerful tool for a leader to wield.

How do you, as a leader, create a positive impact on your environment?

  • By understanding your own emotions and their impact on others, you can practice self-leadership and composure. This enables you to regulate your behaviour when you’re having a bad day or are dealing with a negative situation. You become a constant source of positivity and inspiration for others, encouraging an environment of collaboration and optimism.
  • By demonstrating consistency in your thoughts and actions, you ensure your team feel safe in that they can always predict what the outcome of a given situation will be.
  • By unleashing positivity in the workplace, so that your team sees you leading by example, and feel as though their environment is supportive and optimistic about the future.
  • By focusing on understanding and improving on your leadership capabilities. The Winsborough reportenables leaders in mid- and upper-management to see a clear view of how their leadership competencies are viewed. The Winsborough LSP turns feedback into insights and action – You can use it to assess your capabilities and find ways to improve your leadership.

Creating trust and safety — especially in an uneven economy — means taking on big responsibility. If the leaders focus on creating a safe environment, then every single person has the ability to be a hero, to make sacrifices so that others may gain. And a business will flourish as a result.

I highly recommend watching Simon’s TED talk, where he offers examples of leaders creating this circle of safety from across the business spectrum.

Want more tips on leadership and success strategies for your company? Download our free guide,Success Strategies for Growing Smart Companies.


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