Fascinated by the great leaders of the world, Simon Sanek has managed to codify how inspiring leaders and organizations think, act and communicate. He teaches graduate classes in strategic communication at Columbia University and is the author of three books, including bestseller Stuart With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, which is the focus of this TED Talk.
In his talk, Sinek introduces his idea of the “Golden Circle”, which he calls “a naturally occurring pattern, grounded in the biology of human decision making, that explains why we are inspired by some people, leaders, messages, and organizations over others.”
There are three layers to this circle, with the outermost ring labeled “what”. “What” refers to what companies do. This is the simplest ring. Everyone knows what products or services their companies offer. Apple makes computers. McDonald’s serves food.
The inner ring is labeled “how”. This is your unique selling proposition—how your company is different than the others, what sets you apart. Some companies can identify how they are better than the competition; some can’t. Apple’s computers are beautifully designed, simple, and user-friendly.
The innermost part of the Golden Circle is the heart of inspiration and is labeled “why”. Even fewer companies can answer these questions:
•Why do we exist?
•Why should anyone care that we exist?
To put all of this in context, here is why Apple’s marketing works. If the company wanted to be average, it would start with “what” in the Golden Circle and work its way inward. The marketing message would look something like this: “We sell computers that are better because they’re beautifully designed, user friendly, and simple. Want to buy one?”
Instead, Apple leads its marketing campaigns with “why” and works its way out of the Golden Circle: “We believe in thinking differently and challenging the status quo, so we created computers that are beautifully designed, simple, and user friendly. They just happen to be great computers. Want to buy one?”After hearing the last sales pitch, you want to buy a new computer if you value thinking differently. Simon’s point: All great leaders start with why and work from there to inspire action.
So there are three takeaways from his talk.
“Inspired leaders and the inspired organizations, regardless of their size or industry all think, act and communicate from the inside out.”
All great and inspiring leaders and organizations, whether it’s Apple or Martin Luther King, operate in the same way—and it’s the opposite of everyone else, says Sinek. Inspired and inspiring leaders start with the why before moving to the how and then the what. Sinek uses Apple as an example. Apple believes in challenging the status quo (the why) by making beautifully designed products (the how) and those products just happen to be computers (the what). Does your organization do the same?
“The goal is not to hire people who need a job, it’s to hire people who believe what you believe.”
The goal of business, Sinek says, is not to do business with everyone who needs what you have, but with everyone who believes in what you believe—and the same applies to hiring. You don’t just want to hire people who are only in it for the salary or benefits, but who genuinely believe in your companies mission. He points out that the part of the brain that is responsible for our feelings—the limbic system—is also responsible for all human behavior. Hence why people can know all of the facts with someone and still “go with their gut”.Finding people who genuinely care about your company’s mission can change your company culture from one that’s driven by a desire to earn more money to one that’s fuelled by loyalty and passion.
“Leaders hold a position of power or authority, but those who lead inspire us.”
Not all people who have a position or title of authority are true leaders. A true leader is someone we follow not because we have to but because we want to, says Sinek. Leaders who start with what they believe are the ones who inspire those around them because, in the end, we all follow those who lead not for themselves, but for others, says Sinek
You can find the full video below.