Simon Sinek – Start with Why

Leading from the inside out

The central theme of Simon Sinek’s book ‘The Golden Circle’ is encapsulated in a simple diagram with three layers of WHY, HOW and WHAT.

Sinek’s theory suggests we should start from the inside out, i.e. start with WHAT.

Ordinarily, we focus primarily on WHAT it is we offer the world. Our products and services are of course our most tangible connection with consumers and customers, and as these benefits and features are easy to list, this is what we automatically focus on with our marketing efforts. To differentiate from the competition, we focus on the elements of WHAT that is different i.e. the USPs that elevate our offering above the competition. 

If that’s not enough to be different, we might also add HOW something is made into the equation. It’s easy to forget all about the WHY, about the reason why a company or product was created in the first place. It’s Sinek’s assertion that people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it!

Most companies and products are started by a person who is frustrated because something is missing or wrong. That underlying reason is often the real WHY. In start-ups, the team is small enough that as they try to figure out the HOW and the WHAT, everyone has a pretty clear sense of the WHY. The beliefs of the founder(s) are clear to the whole team. 

Yet as organizations get bigger, the HOW and the WHAT can become objectives in themselves, overtaking the often less measurable WHY at the heart of the company, which is typically its’ mission. Simon Sinek calls this the split, the point where the HOW and WHAT lose track of the WHY. The split can be repaired by strong leadership rekindling the WHY and communicating it clearly.

Energy excites. Charisma inspires. What does this mean? Well, Sinek says, “energy is easy to see, easy to measure and easy to copy. Charisma is hard to define, near impossible to measure and too elusive to copy”. All great leaders have charisma because all great leaders have a clarity of WHY. In other words, charisma is from an absolute conviction in an ideal bigger than oneself. Whereas energy can excite, it does not have the capability to inspire. Charisma commands loyalty, energy does not.

The Golden circle is not just a communication tool, but it provides insight into how great organizations are organized. If we look at it like a cone, we see the hierarchical and organized system. Sitting at the top, representing WHY, is the leader or CEO. The next level down, the HOW level, typically are the senior executives who are inspired by the leader’s vision. The why is the belief, the HOW are the actions we take to bring the belief to life, and the WHAT are results of those actions. For every great leader or WHY-type, there is an inspired HOW-type or group that takes a vision and brings it to life.

Ironically, every WHY-type will need a HOW-type. However the HOW-types can still be successful and innovative entrepreneurs but will unlikely build the very best businesses. The companies that disrupt and change the course of an industry are those that have a very special and rare partnership between one who knows WHY and those who know HOW. Another essential ingredient to a successful venture, is trust. Without trust, it spoils the vision and harms inspiration.

Simon Sinek“The pessimists are usually right, but it’s the optimists who change the world.”

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