Opinion

The business book club: key lessons from Simon Sinek’s, Start with Why

andrew-sharman-cut-out
CEO of international safety culture consultancy RMS

Simon Sinek’s TED talk from 2009, based on his book Start with Why, is the third most watched of all time with more than 42 million views. 

The reason it’s so popular is perhaps the simplicity yet universality of his idea. The book shares a simple model for building trust, engagement and driving better results.

 To motivate action, you can either manipulate or inspire. 

 

First, there are leaders and there are those who lead. Sinek argues the latter always start with why. He explains a naturally occurring pattern – known as the “Golden Circle” – manifesting as a way of thinking, acting and communicating that provides leaders with the ability to truly inspire others. Imagine a three-ring circle. At its centre is the why, then the how, then the outer ring – the what. Sinek’s hypothesis is that most leaders focus on what needs to be done. Those who strive to influence further often push the how – but this can lead to micro-management. The best leaders start with the why.

There are four key lessons in Sinek’s book.

  • If we start with the wrong question, even the right answers will steer us wrongly
  • If you want to inspire others always communicate your why first
  • Engaged employees who understand why they do what they do are the best resource for any business
  • You don’t need heavy-handed management tactics when you start with why.

Winning hearts depends on trust. We earn trust through showing that we share the same values and beliefs and the only way to do this is to share our why and back it up with how we do what we do. As Sinek says: “A ‘why’ is just a belief, ‘hows’ are the actions we take to realise that belief, and ‘whats’ are the results of those actions.”

Business book club, Key lessons Simon Sinek's. Start with WhyTo motivate action, you can either manipulate or inspire. Manipulation in terms of workplace safety could include slogans, enforcing rules, auditing, driving a culture of fear, audacious aspirations, novelty incentives, or peer pressure.

Manipulation has its use, though it’s best for transactions or behaviours that may happen only once, not for building trust and loyalty. Inspiring people requires a purpose: a why. A solid and clear why helps them with a fundamental need – the need to belong.

Some companies try to articulate their why with statements of their values: integrity, honesty, innovation and safety. But as Sinek points out, these are nouns and they are not actionable. It’s impossible to hold people to account with nouns. You can’t say, “A little more safety today please, people”.  To make values tangible they need to be translated into sentences with verbs, such as, “We always work safely”.

Great leaders and companies always start with why they do things, then follow with the how. Finally, they reveal what they do.

A re-occurring phrase in the book is that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. This is enormously powerful.  But answering the question: why do you do what you do? requires courage. So why is safety important to you? Your organisation? Your leaders?

 

CEO of international safety culture consultancy RMS 

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