Whether you’re spearheading a new initiative at work or helming the charity auction at your child’s school, you can learn a thing or two by following Simon Sinek, the author of Leaders Eat Last.

By Kaitlyn Pirie
Updated May 09, 2014
Oliver Munday

What attribute does a leader need most?

She should see herself as the protector of those in her group. For example, a good boss makes sure that her employees have all the tools they need to do their jobs. A good PTA president publicly acknowledges volunteers for their effort so that everyone feels appreciated. If people feel unsafe—that is, as if their leader is trying to undermine or take advantage of them—they’ll concentrate on protecting themselves and, as a result, focus less on the task at hand.

What’s a common mistake that leaders make?

Thinking that they should have all the answers. No one knows everything, and good leaders are comfortable with that. They’re grateful to be surrounded by people who can help them hash things out. When something they organized, from a field trip to a presentation, doesn’t go perfectly, they aren’t afraid to discuss with the group how to adapt it for the future.

Say you’re in a group without an assigned leader. What’s the best way to step up?

Whether you’re at the office or elsewhere, say to the group, “I’m happy to ensure that everything goes smoothly. I want everyone here to have what they need to make things happen.” If it’s clear that you’re there to serve and to give, you’ll naturally find yourself in a leadership position. If someone objects, let that person take over. An effective leader cares most about everyone doing their best to get the job done well, even if that means taking a supporting role.

Once you’re in command, how do you gain the trust of team members?

Give them a lot of independence, but check in on each person periodically. In other words, let people succeed and let them fail while providing training and guidance. When a new project needs to be launched, put someone in charge of it. If the project succeeds, let that person know what a great job he did. If the project fails, instead of getting mad, say, “OK, let’s figure out how to rectify it.”

How can you get slackers to chip in?

You might be thinking, What’s your problem? But you should ask, “Is everything OK?” When a person checks out, there’s often a reason. If a group member seems to be riding the coattails of hardworking people, give her a solo task that will impact others. For instance, have her find a venue for a party that the rest of the group will plan.

How do you encourage creative thinking?

When possible, kick off a project with a brainstorming session in which everyone can speak freely. There should be no such thing as a lousy idea. No matter what is said, respond with something like “That's not bad. Let’s build on it.” Suggestions are seeds; the group works together to decide upon the best seeds and nurture them. At the end of a project, it’s a good sign when no one cares whose idea it was to begin with and everyone feels that they had a hand in it.

How can you tell that you’re doing well?

You’ll start to hear people say, “She’s our leader,” instead of “She’s the leader.”

To purchase Sinek’s book, Leaders Eat Last, visit amazon.com.