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Leaders Start With “Why”

September 1, 2019

Since I started my own business in 2016, it seems like I have read more leadership and management books than during my 25-years of public service in the Air Force and State Department. I look at my nightstand with upcoming books that I’m going to read and there is more of the same – it is really surprising that I enjoy reading this genre despite so much real world and personal experience.


Here is why I think: One, nothing is more challenging (and fulfilling) than leading and managing a team really, really well. Two, we need new ideas to challenge our assumptions and to learn new skills to manage subsequent generations as they enter the workforce no matter what industry you currently work in. Three, I believe in (and love) public service and I want my friends and colleagues still in the military and federal government to be betters leaders and to make these organizations stronger and stronger.


With those ideas in mind, let’s take a look at Simon Sinek’s ideas in his book “Start With Why:  How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action.”


The Golden Circle


The Golden Circle is the WHY, HOW and WHAT of an organization. Too many organizations are focused on the exterior of the circle —WHAT or HOW when the best leaders and organization always start with the center—WHY.


“WHY is a belief, HOWs are the actions you take to realize that belief and WHATS are the results of those actions — everything you say and do: your products, services marketing, PR, culture and whom you hire.”


“Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. WHY – what is your purpose, cause or belief?”


“People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it. A failure to communicate WHY creates nothing but stress or doubt.”


“Leadership requires two things:a vision of the world that does not yet exist and the ability to communicate it.”

“Leaders never start with what needs to be done. Leaders start with WHY we need to do things.Leaders inspire action.”


“Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you. Loyal customers often don’t even bother to research the competition or entertain other options. Loyalty is not easily won.Repeat business, however, is. All it takes is more manipulations.” Manipulations are quick fixes that drive short-term results, but they don't build loyalty.


“It’s in the tough times that loyal customers matter most.”


“After September 11, there were customers who sent checks to Southwest Airlines to show their support – symbolic of the feeling customers for the brand.”


“For value or guiding principles to be truly effective they have to be verbs. It’s not “integrity” it’s “always do the right thing". It’s not “innovation” it’s “look at the problem from a different angle.”

“Articulating our values as verbs gives us a clear idea how to act in any situation. We can hold each other accountable to measure them or even build incentives around them.”


Hiring/Building a Team


“Great people don’t hire skilled people and motivate them; they hire already motivated people and inspire them. People are either motivated or they are not. Unless you give motivated people something to believe in, something bigger than their job to work toward, they will motivate themselves to find a new job and you’ll be stuck with whoever’s left.”

“Passion comes from feeling like you are a part of something that you believe in, something bigger than yourself. Without managed trust, people will show up do their jobs and they will worry primarily about themselves. This is the root of office politics—people acting within the system for self-gain often at the expense of others, even the company.”

“With a WHY clearly stated in an organization, anyone within the organization can make a decision as clearly and as accurately as the founder. A WHY provides the clear filter for decision-making.”



“Achievement and success are not the same thing.Achievement is something you reach or attain like a goal. It is something tangible, clearly defined and measurable. Success, in contrast, is a feeling or a state of being. The path to reach that intangible feeling of success is more elusive.”


There is a lot to ponder in“Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action.”  If you are interested, check out Simon’s TED talk with 46 million views here or pick up a paperback copy for less than $10 at Amazon.  An investment in strengthening your leadership skill, whether you are just starting to supervise or have more than two decades of experience is always worthwhile.  Keep doing the great work you are doing!


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