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Simon Sinek on Performance vs Trust

Published: 2021-02-14 • Last updated: 2021-05-03

There are more factors that go into choosing a Navy Seal than just performance vs trust. But I get what Simon is saying, and it’s true for me personally: I would rather work with a high trust & medium performance leader, than a medium trust & high performance leader.

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I worked with the Navy Seals. and I asked them, “How do you pick the guys that go on Seal Team Six? Because they’re the best of the best of the best.”

And they drew a graph for me. On one side (y-axis), they wrote performance. On other side (x-axis), they wrote trust.

The way they defined the terms was: performance equals performance on the battlefield (skills, did you make your quarterly earnings, etc.); trust equals performance off the battlefield (what kind of person are you, “I may trust you with my life, but do I trust you with my money and my wife?").

Nobody wants the low performance & low trust person. Of course, everybody wants the high performance & high trust person.

But they learned that the high performance & low trust person is a toxic leader and a toxic team member. And they would rather have a medium performance & high trust, or a low performance & high trust, over a high performance and low trust person.

This is the highest performing organization on the planet, and the low performance, high trust person, is more important than the high performance, low trust person.

And the problem in business is we have lopsided metrics. We have a million and one metrics to measure someone’s performance, and negligible to no metrics to measure someone’s trustworthiness.

So, what we end up doing is promoting, or bonusing, toxicity in our businesses. Which is bad for the long game, because it eventually destroys the whole organization.

The irony is, it’s unbelievable easy to find these people. Go to any team and say “Who is the asshole?”. And they will all point to the same person. 1

Equally, if you go to the same team and say, “Who do you trust more than anybody else? Who’s always got your back? When the chips are down, who will be there with you?” They will also all point to the same person.

It’s the same best-gifted-natural-leader who’s creating an environment for everybody else to succeed, and they may not be your most individual highest performer, but that person… you better keep them on your team.


  1. I think everyone can acknowledge, that while assholes are a pain to work with, they can be useful to get things done. ↩︎