Why, How, What – The Golden Circle

I’m a big fan of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circles, which describes the “why”, the “how”, and the “what” of an organization. More importantly Simon emphasizes the need to understand the “why” of your company in order to inspire, not only your team, but also your customers into action. I highly recommend watching the his TEDx presentation if you haven’t already.

TEDx Presentation

Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle

Golden Circle

In the book “Start with why”, Simon Sinek outlines the secret behind inspiration:

As it turns out, there’s a pattern. All the great and inspiring leaders and organizations in the world — whether it’s Apple or Martin Luther King or the Wright brothers — they all think, act and communicate the exact same way. And it’s the complete opposite to everyone else.

Sinek states that all concepts are defined on three levels: why, how and what.



Inside-Out vs Outside-In

Most people work form the outside-in — they start out with what they know, or what they want to accomplish, and then reverse engineer it to figure out hwo to do it. We do the same things we’re familiar with, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t really know why we’re doing what we’re doing.

In the church plant that I’m part of, we’ve been working on next year’s budget. We told everyone ministry to come up with a budget for next year and everyone single ministry presented a budget that was a breakdown of events that they did this year. They looked at their current year calendar and they figured out what it cost to do what they did this year, then they presented the exact same budgets so that they could continue what they’ve been doing all along. When we asked why they were doing the programming that they were currently doing, they couldn’t tell us why…

Leaders and ministries that inspire movement and engagement work from the inside-out — they begin with a clear, foundational, abstract mission/vision, they then figure out the strategy and processes for how to achieve that mission/vision, and they design and execute programs/initiatives/projects that encapsulate their mission/vision.

Sinek compares Apple against Dell to illustrate this concept:

Inside-out: Apple Inc.

  • Why — We need to think different. Don’t conform to the norm. Be a rebel.
  • How — Manufacturing and Distribution: Proprietary processes, retail channels, etc.
  • What — Do we have a product for you: Computers, MP3 Players, Phones

Outside-In: Dell Computers

  • What — Do we have a product for you: We have amazing computers.
  • How — Manufacturing and Distribution: Proprietary processes, retail channels, etc.
  • Why — ? Uhhh

Starting with Why opens up infinite number of options

Your clear internal mission/vision & values/principles effects every strategy/process and external effort of your organization. Apple’s diverse product line, computers, mp3 players, phones, tablets are rooted in their core “Why”. Their expansion into other markets feels natural, almsot obvious — which is why changing their name from Apple Computer to Apple Inc. made sense.

However, when Dell tried to expand into new markets, their attempts felted forced and awkward. As Sinek put it, ‘Why would we buy an MP3 player from a computer company? [in reference to Dell] But we do it every day. [in reference to Apple]’

People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it. — Simon Sinek

This applies to every effort within your organization. Whether it be your content or whether it’s a service, they are either self-serving and superficial because you’re starting with what or they’re inspiring and life-changing because they’re derived from your mission/vision.

All content is either meandering and unintentional (surfaced in what) or derived from intent (rooted in why) — wether it be a film, a book, a company, a leader, blog posts, social media posts etc.

Effective Leadership Starts With Why

Leadership is about moving a group of people from A to B and the most effective way to get people to move is to inspire them. Your job as a leader is to 1) help them define & understand their current reality, to 2) help them imagine a new future and to 3) help them move from currently reality to newly imagined future. Leadership is helping people not only see where they are currently and where they could be in the future, but it is to inspire them to make the future the new reality.

Therefore, everything that your organization does must be guided by the mission and vision. You’re methods may change, and the journey may be a straightshot, but you will surely arrive at your destination. You will no longer be limited or pigeon-holed and defined by what you do. A clear mission/vision sets your free and allows you to change your “What”s freely. Starting or stoping a program no longer feels forced or awkward. You may even change the name of your agency. Fundamentally, you will inspire and lead people.

Effective leadership requires inspiration and inspiration requires purpose/why. This is why effective leadership starts with the question “Why”.

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