How Great Leaders Inspire Action. Compliance lessons from Simon Sinek and an Aboriginal Elder

Feb 28, 2024

What’s coming up in this article

I believe that the lessons we learn from real people are far more impactful and applicable than reading a news headline. I also believe, as Yogi Bhajan says, that to teach something is the ultimate form of mastery.  That’s why I write and share a lot of what I read and what I practice. Everything I write about is what I use in my work.

So, I want to thank you for taking the time to read my articles. Because of you, I have an opportunity to master not just the legal and compliance work I do, but also be able to learn about and apply brain science, psychology, marketing principles and behaviour science to my work.

In my quest for mastery this week, I am drawing on two leaders in very different places. The first is an aboriginal elder, Uncle Bob, who taught me an excellent lesson on the impact of our values, beliefs.

And the second is the legendary Simon Sinek from one of the most famous TED talks in the world, ‘How Great Leaders Inspire Action’.

My objective is to reframe how you positively influence people in your organisation to value compliance.

Do you believe me?

Why do you believe what you do?

Think about why people believe certain things but not others, even when there is evidence to the contrary or no evidence to back it up? For example:

  • Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, a 2018 survey by YouGov found that 2% of Americans firmly believe that the Earth is flat.
  • According to a 2019 Gallup poll, approximately 16% of Americans believe that people have been abducted by aliens.
  • A 2019 survey by Chapman University found 45% of Americans believe that houses can be haunted by spirits.

Do you secretly believe in superstitions.

  • Do you avoid walking under ladders and stay away from black cats in your path?
  • How about breaking a mirror. Are you concerned about seven years of bad luck?
  • How about Friday the thirteenth? Do you avoid certain activities on that day?

The point is not what we believe (your secret superstitions are safe with me) but understanding why we believe what we do.

And this is important, as beliefs have monumental impact on our own individual life, the culture of an organisation and entire populations of people.

Understanding what people believe and what their values are

I recently learned that an aboriginal elder who teaches my kids aboriginal art, Uncle Bob, can no longer teach art.  He has a heart condition. But that’s not the reason he can’t teach. In fact, it’s not that he can’t but he won’t.

He won’t teach because his wife has asked him not to.

I have immense admiration for Uncle Bob for this decision. But it’s heartbreaking to think of him not doing something he loves, something that has inspired my children and many others, as shown below by my wall of just some paintings by my children.

However, he also loves his wife and family and I love that he values this over anything else. For me, this is a learning moment.

Nicole Rose and children’s painting inspired by Uncle Bob

How understanding peoples ‘why’ can increase their use of compliance systems

What has Uncle Bob’s story got to do with compliance?

You could say that it’s about risk and mitigation. But that’s not something I want to focus on. Instead, I want to focus on values and beliefs and the actions people take because of these. In other words, our ‘why’.

Uncle Bob’s overriding value is respecting his wife and family. His strong belief is that family comes first, and his actions are in fact inactions; he travels less, stays at home more and doesn’t make too many commitments. He slows down.

Now imagine that he did not have these values and beliefs. He values his time and his space over anything else. He thinks that he should enjoy what time he has left of his life however he wants to. What would be the outcome then?

His heart condition would most likely get worse. His quality of life would decline. He may live a shorter life and have less time with his organisation, his family.

Let’s apply this to our compliance programs.

For example, imagine that we want to increase the number of employees who record benefits on the benefit register.

“But how about helping them to understand that this relationship could be in jeopardy…”

If their belief is that their personal relationship with the person who offered them a benefit is more important than a work process, and they value this relationship over the organisation, then it is unlikely they will record that benefit.

So, what we want to do is link their values and beliefs to the organisation’s values and core beliefs. They can still believe that their relationship with an individual is important. But how about helping them to understand that this relationship could be in jeopardy, as could their friend, because of the perception (even if not reality) that they offered a bribe.

Taking the time to find out what matters to our people, what their values are and what tightly held beliefs they hold on to can be the difference between a control that looks good on paper and a control that works in practice.

But I also understand that focusing on individuals rather than a whole group or organisation is a time consuming a strategy and may not be practical when we are looking at ‘selling’ our compliance or legal program to many thousands of people.

So, let’s consider taking this concept to a much larger scale.

Why should people care about our legal and compliance programs?

Simon Sinek in his extraordinary TED talk, ‘How great leaders inspire action’ started with three words.

Why? How? What?

As he explained, “… every single organization on the planet knows what they do.. Some know how they do it, … But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do.  And by “why” I don’t mean “to make a profit.” That’s a result. It’s always a result. By “why,” I mean: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?”

Outside in or inside out?

Sinek gives the example of Apple. He explains:

“If Apple were like everyone else, a marketing message from them might sound like this: “We make great computers. They’re beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. Want to buy one?”  Probably not!”

Is this how we communicate about our legal and compliance programs?

Ever seen something along these lines:

“Here’s our legal or compliance program. We have the best compliance experts/lawyers, and we listen to the business. Here’s our systems and controls that we have designed. They’re great and will protect the company. Please use them.”

This is, according to Sinek, communicating from the outside in.

What, how and why.

Would you buy from this department? Is it inspiring? Will you move hearts and minds? Will you change beliefs? Probably not.

Here’s how Sinek explains that Apple communicates.

“Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”

And I did. Since 2010 I have purchased 6 Apple Computers, 6 iPads and a few iPhones.

As Sinek explained this is communication from the inside out – we start from why!

The science of ‘starting with why’

The reason for the success of this form of communication is apparently biological. It’s all to do with how we process information in our brain.

When we communicate ‘inside out’ (starting with why) we are speaking to the part of the brain, our limbic brain, that controls behaviour but doesn’t question language. It doesn’t get caught up in the nuances or detail. It just has a feeling.

I suspect that Uncle Bob, when learning of is heart condition, was very much making decisions from his limbic brain.  His ‘why’ was front of mind. Be around as long as possible for my family.

Getting people to care about our legal and compliance programs

As my friend and marketing leader and guru that I always go to when I need marketing advice and strategies for building successful compliance programs, Alan Tepper recently shared with me:

For me, after a career in marketing into the third decade now, understanding what motivates ourselves and other people is the key to authentic and impactful communication. And as Maya Angelou reminds us:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

So how can we motivate our people to care about our programs the way that Uncle Bob cares about his wife’s feelings?  Well happily, Mr Sinek has done the hard work for us and it is our job to simply answer his questions:

  1. What’s your purpose?
  1. What’s your cause?
  1. What’s your belief?
  1. Why does your department really exist?
  1. Why do you get out of bed in the morning?
  1. And why should anyone care?

I don’t have these answers for you, but I know you do.

We’ll miss you Uncle Bob. Thank you for all the painting and compliance lessons.

Over to you

  • If you are searching for the answers to the above 6 questions and you want a ‘why’ as good as Apple, contact Alan Tepper to discuss marketing for yourself or your compliance or legal program.
  • Learn the art of the Reframe, Preframe, and Post-frame: Attend the Untold Compliance weekly complimentary Frame Training Method™ workshops. Register below to get details of weekly sessions and to get on the list for future sessions. CPD points will be awarded.

The Caveat

All information in this newsletter is not intended to be used as legal advice. It’s important to consult with a qualified professional for advice tailored to your specific situation.

Thanks for reading,

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