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Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

Start with WhyStart with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek. Portfolio. 256 pages. 2009.

I recently read Simon Sinek’s book Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. Here’s a link to my review of the book Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek

I listened to the audiobook version of the book, which was well read by Sinek. His 18-minute 2009 TED Talk on this subject has had in excess of 20 million views:

Sinek starts out the book by stating: “There are leaders and there are those who lead. This book is about a naturally occurring pattern, a way of thinking, acting and communicating that gives some leaders the ability to inspire those around them. They are the ones that start with why.”

The message of the book is clear, stated early and then reinforced throughout the book. Sinek believes that people don’t buy what we or organizations do, but they buy into why we or organizations do it. He encourages us to focus on the why and put our focus on that.

As in Leaders Eat Last, he effectively discusses examples of those who do this well (Apple, Southwest Airlines, Martin Luther King, Harley Davidson, the Wright Brothers and others), and those who don’t (Wal-Mart, the railroads, Samuel Pierpont Langley, Barings Bank, TiVo and other).

He discusses the concept of the Golden Circle (see below). Inspiring leaders think, act and communicate from the inside out.

The Golden Circle

Most companies go from what to why. They are not inspiring companies and leaders.

I took a lot of notes as I listened to this book. Below are a few that I’d like to share with you:

  • 80 percent of people don’t enjoy their jobs. If they worked in organizations that inspire those numbers could be reversed.
  • There are only two ways to influence human behavior – through manipulation or inspiration.
  • Manipulation does not breed loyalty. There is a big difference between repeat business and loyalty. Loyalty is not easily won. Manipulation leads to transactions, not loyalty. Manipulation works, and is the norm today.
  • Sinek compares business and dating. Both would benefit with starting with why.
  • Continental Airlines turned around from the worst airline (an environment of no trust) to first (an environment of trust).
  • The limbic brain is responsible for all of our feelings, such as trust and loyalty. It is also responsible for human behavior and decision making. When we communicate from the why, we’re talking directly to the part of the brain that controls decision making, and our language part of the brain allows us to rationalize those decisions.
  • If companies mistreat their employees, watch out for how they treat their customers.
  • Trust is a feeling, not a rational experience.
  • Leading is not the same as being the leader. Those who lead have followers that want and choose to follow them.
  • When we share values and beliefs with others we form trust with them. We want to be around those people and organizations that share our beliefs. We do better in organizations in which we share beliefs and values.
  • You should hire people who believe what you (and your organization) believe.
  • “We will hire someone with less experience, less education, and less expertise, than someone who has more of those things and has a rotten attitude. Because we can train people. We can teach people how to lead. We can teach people how to provide customer service. But we can’t change their DNA.” Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines.
  • Apple’s why remains the same, no matter the product (iPod, iPhone, iPad, Mac, etc.).
  • The why stopped being important to the railroads and as a result they were overtaken by the airlines. This applies to the music industry, newspaper, publishing and television industries as well.
  • Apple users are drawn together. Martin Luther King’s followers as well.
  • Great leaders and organizations are good at giving us what we would have never thought to ask.
  • Great leaders trust their guts and go after hearts before minds.
  • Apple has a clear sense of why. Users and employees can’t really tell you exactly why they are loyal to them. They just want to be part of something bigger than themselves.
  • For values 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 of how to act in any situation.
  • If you don’t know why, you don’t know how.
  • Southwest Airlines inspires people to be loyal.
  • The Wright Brothers knew why they were building a flying machine.
  • Great companies give their people a purpose or challenge around which to develop ideas rather than simply instructing them to make a better mousetrap.
  • You need an environment of trust in order for people to take risks.
  • Southwest Airlines focuses on employees first, ahead of customers.
  • The majority of organizations only communicate “what” they do. Truly successful organizations have a clear view of why they do what they do.
  • Leadership requires two things – a vision of the world that does not yet exist, and the ability to communicate it.
  • Apple and U2 have partnered over the years. It wouldn’t make sense for Apple to partner with Celine Dion, but U2 makes sense. (Check out Apple and U2’s latest partnership –
  • We are more likely to trust those with who we share values and beliefs.
  • TiVo – what they did was more important than why the product existed. They had a high quality product, but attempted to convince people to buy only on what the product would do. Instead, they needed to say why the product existed.
  • Satellite radio is similar to TiVo. It is not the technology that failed, but the companies’ failure to sell the products.
  • Sinek talks a lot about the Law of Diffusion. The model for the Law of Diffusion of Innovation is illustrated by a bell curve and it details who we are and where we fall in the cycle of the adaptation of ideas.
  • People who share your beliefs are influencers. They will buy your products, will put up with inconvenience (some have to wait for months for a custom Harley), pay a premium and tell others about you.
  • Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I have a Dream” speech. 250,000 showed up on the right day. This was due to MLK’s clarity of why. He had the ability to put his why into words. He became the symbol of the belief.
  • Energy motivates, but charisma inspires. All great leaders have charisma because all great leaders have clarity of why – the undying belief in their own cause that is bigger than themselves. Charisma commands loyalty.
  • Products alone can’t drive loyalty.
  • We know what Apple believes. People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. Apple does what it does because of what they believe.
  • A why provides a clear filter for decision making
  • Parents know what Disney stands for and therefore they trust them and their products.
  • Open seating represents freedom for Southwest Airlines and their loyal customers.
  • Wal-Mart’s why got fuzzy. They confused their why (serving) with their how (manipulation) after the death of their founder Sam Walton. They then focused on their what.
  • Success and achievement are not the same.
  • For great leaders the Golden Circle is in balance.
  • The biggest challenge an organization faces is success.
  • The “School Bus Test”. If founder is hit by a bus, would the organization continue to inspire?
  • Microsoft’s why has become fuzzy. AOL lost their why. They do not inspire any longer. Dell and Starbucks are other examples of this as well.
  • All organizations measure their what. Only the best and most inspiring measure their why.
  • Sinek looks at how Apple, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, Starbucks and Dell lost their why after their founders left the organizations.
  • Succession is not replacement. Succession is a continuity of the founder’s vision, not a new vision.
  • When you lose your why all you have is your what.
  • Sinek compares Wal-Mart and Costco. Costco’s founder why is similar to that of Sam Walton.
  • The biology of the human brain and the Golden Circle overlap perfectly.
  • What is your why? The book does not give you a step by step guide on how you can find your “why”. According to Sinek, finding your “why” is a process of discovery. You can go to the site to get additional tools, etc. related to the book.

2 thoughts on “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

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