Simon Sinek on finding and cultivating a purposeful career

Jessica Hibbard
January 16, 2017
Check out the official recap for photos, videos, articles, presentations and more from Retail’s BIG Show 2017 .

Check out the official recap for photos, videos, articles, presentations and more from Retail’s BIG Show 2017 .

There’s a difference between a job that pays the bills and a career that makes you feel excited about going to work every day. During a closing keynote at Retail’s BIG Show Student Program, author and optimist Simon Sinek shared leadership and career insights with more than 700 college students and educators. Sinek said the most effective leaders act like junior employees even when they’re senior managers. Keep these ideas in mind to stay curious and act like a student, not an expert.

On awareness

“Sometimes you’ll be the root of the problem and you won’t see it,” Sinek said. How do you avoid these blind spots? Pay close attention to how others perceive you. Ask for feedback, and most importantly, be open to receiving it. The best kind of feedback is negative feedback, because it’s difficult to learn from glowing praise. Accept criticism graciously so those around you won’t be afraid to continue sharing their observations with you. “The worst leaders are refugees from accountability,” Sinek said. 

How to interview an employer

Sinek says job seekers should pay close attention to the work environment and should be prepared to ask plenty of questions. Here are a few of his favorites:

Do you like your job? (Body language can be more telling than the verbal response.)

What don’t you like about your job? (If they’re unnerved, that’s a warning sign.)

I hate surprises. Tell me something I wouldn’t know about the culture here so I’m not surprised later.

Tell me how you’re different now than when you first took this job. What have you learned? How have you grown?

Tell me one thing you wish you could change about the company.

On humility

Career growth brings opportunities for promotions, and the bigger your title, the better your perks. As soon as you leave a high-ranking position, the perks go away. It’s a reminder, Sinek said, to not take accolades and privileges personally — they go along with a position and aren’t meant for you. Leaders should stay humble and be grateful; the more grateful you are, the more others will want to follow you. Practice gratitude and humility when you’re in a junior position and carry that attitude with you throughout your career.

On generosity

Leadership has nothing to do with rank and everything to do with empowering others. If you want to practice being a leader, be obsessed with making others successful. True leaders must be the first to place their trust in others and make no demands of others. Instead of a transactional relationship — doing something for others because you expect something in return — leaders should be generous and focus on helping others produce their best work.

On patience

Manage your expectations. It’s tempting — especially when you’re first starting out — to want it all and want it immediately. Sinek said it takes at least six months to settle into a job; unless it’s oppressive and awful, don’t leave too quickly. Even if your boss is supportive and your company offers a positive environment, maintaining a sense of joy and passion for your work will take effort.

Junior positions are a gift, Sinek said, because you can try different things, make mistakes and learn from people around you. Don’t squander opportunities by trying to be perfect or giving up too soon. Stick with it and be patient.

On relationships

Networking can be difficult, especially if you’re naturally introverted. Sometimes all you need is one question to get a conversation started, and if you’re interested in the lives of other people, you’ll be able to make authentic connections. Whether you’re meeting someone new or spending time with an old friend, Sinek said you’ll benefit from resisting the urge to look at your phone. “Every time you pull out your phone in the company of others, you make them feel bad,” Sinek said. “If you love your friends, put your phone away.”

After his presentation, Sinek answered a few of our questions about being present and staying engaged, and explained why “making space” is his intention for 2017. Watch the video.

5 questions with Simon Sinek

Video of 5 Questions with Simon Sinek 5 questions with Simon Sinek