In his 17-minute Ted Talk, management expert Simon Sinek asks why some businesses succeed more than others. According to Sinek, the key ingredient for success is inspiring leadership. And these inspiring leaders all have the similar ways of thinking, acting, and communicating that are dramatically different from most other people.
Sinek boils it down to a concept he calls “The Golden Circle”, which is really three concentric circles. The outermost circle is what. The middle circle is how. The center circle is why, and it’s the most important. Ordinary leaders focus on thinking and communicating about what they are going to provide and how. They spend little effort on the concept of why.
That might seem like an easy question with an obvious answer – we do what we do to make profits. Well, that is not going to win anyone over. The kind of “why” that Sinek says great leaders create is more interesting than that. You can win people over if you convey a bigger sense of purpose, a goal of making the world better with a particular approach and philosophy.
For instance, Apple computers. Are they successful because they have simple, beautifully designed products? Well, perhaps in part. But Sinek says their sense of mission and the way they communicate is central to their success. Apple conveys a strong sense of belief and purpose: Apple is on a mission to challenge the status quo by thinking differently.
Sinek points out success is clearly not just about product design. Gateway tried to sell flatscreen TVs and Dell tried to sell MP3 players. Both companies made fine products, but nobody wanted to buy TVs and MP3 players from companies that, to the extent they had any perceptible “why” simply existed to make computers. Apple has a more broad and inspiring “why” so they had no trouble selling MP3 players.
There is a biological basis for this. The neocortex sits atop the human brain processing language and thinking about what and how. But the deeper limbic system of the brain generates our emotional responses and ultimately the limbic brain makes the decisions. When we tell somehow what and how, we are talking to the outside part, dealing with the surface. When we talk about why we are communicating “from the inside out” and speaking directly to the boss.
Sinek closes by drawing a fine distinction. “…There are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or authority, but those who lead inspire us.” Are you in a leadership position? How can you use Sinek’s advice and develop and communicate a “why” for your business?