Friday, 19 July 2013 13:47

Leadership and the Power of “Why”

Leadership and the Power of “Why”

Many business books seek to define the qualities of great business leaders, while claiming that leadership can be learned. Yet few CEOs of top companies provide the truly inspirational leadership that leaves a legacy strong enough to ensure future sustainability.

The situation is truly puzzling: Most candidates for senior leadership positions are highly qualified, experienced and deeply engaged in their work. Less effective bosses are commonly weeded out in the long run, and competent bosses are usually promoted. Why, then, do so many good managers lack the requisite leadership skills?

Apparently, leadership is not easily learned or practised.

Leading with Why

Leaders who want to succeed should clearly communicate what they believe and why they’re so passionate about their cause, according to business consultant Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (Portfolio, 2010).

Most people know what they do and how they do it, Sinek says, but few communicate why they do what they do.

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy into why you do it,” he writes.

If you don’t know and cannot communicate why you take specific actions, how can you expect employees to become loyal followers who support your mission? Great leaders inspire us when they connect with our hearts and emotions, says Sinek, who presents his ideas on TED TV (

Great leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Walt Disney always communicated their “why”—the reasons they acted, why they cared and their future hopes. Great business leaders follow suit:

  •     Apple’s Steve Wozniak believes everyone should have a computer and, along with Steve Jobs, set out to challenge established corporations’ status quo.
  •     Walmart’s Sam Walton believed all people should have access to low-cost goods.
  •     Starbucks’ Howard Schultz wanted to create social experiences in cafés resembling those in Italy.
  •     The world’s largest solar energy company Suntech and its founder Dr Zhengrong Shi believe in a future where everyone has reliable access to nature’s cleanest and most abundant energy resource.

The Why of Apple

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak teamed up in their 20s to challenge a computer industry designed for large corporations. Wozniak saw the personal computer as a way to provide tools to the “little guy”—to give everyone the ability to perform the same functions with similar resources.

Steve Jobs had originally sold surplus electronic parts, but he was much more than a salesman. Jobs wanted to make his mark on the world, and he envisioned building a company as the best way to start a revolution.

In Apple’s first year, with only one product, Wozniak and Jobs brought in a million dollars in revenue. Year 2 produced $10 million in sales; year 4, $100 million. Within six years, Apple Computer was a billion-dollar company with more than 3,000 employees. The computer revolution was, indeed, established.

Jobs and Wozniak were not alone in their technological quest, nor were they the smartest or most experienced of the bunch.

What made Apple remarkable was not its fast growth, nor its unique ideas about personal computers. Apple has repeated a pattern of success over and over again. Unlike any of its competitors, the company has challenged conventional thinking within numerous industries: computers, small electronics, music, mobile phones and broader entertainment categories.

With only a 6 percent market share in the United States and about 3 percent worldwide, Apple is not a leading manufacturer of home computers. But the company nonetheless leads the computer industry in innovation and technological advancements, while becoming a force to be reckoned with in other industries, as well.

Arguably, Apple’s success lies in its leaders’ ability to inspire and be true to their core values: challenge the status quo and empower people.

Apple inspires because it starts with why, according to Sinek. Company leaders communicate the reasons Apple exists, as well as their heartfelt motivation for creating new products that give customers new levels of freedom and power.

Apple has access to the same talent pool shared by every other computer company. Its leaders hire those who can eloquently verbalise their desire to be great. Those selected to join the company can achieve this goal because their leaders communicate passion and their “why.”

Creating Loyalty

There are leaders and there are those who actually lead.

Every executive who supervises others must be prepared to motivate—a skill that really isn’t difficult. It requires you to create loyal customers and workers who link themselves to your higher cause.

External incentives or benefits are insufficient. True leaders create followers who are inspired—not simply swayed by marketing or hype. Their willingness to act is rooted in a deeply personal cause that is greater than themselves—even if it means making a personal sacrifice. They’re willing to pay a premium, put up with inconvenience, and even ignore their own pain and suffering. They will do whatever it takes to follow your ideas because they believe in you or your company.

The leaders who helped create the iPhone, iPod and iPad don’t complain about long hours or technological challenges. They remain dedicated to finding solutions that improve others’ lives. They don’t inspire employees with money, gym facilities or company picnics. They inspire their employees to care about why they do what they do, instead of the what and the how of company policies and procedures.

The why inspires people to be more creative and productive. They go home feeling satisfied and have happier families. They treat their colleagues and customers better. Inspired people are the glue that holds strong companies together, while also increasing bottom lines.

You know you’ve succeeded when employees’ beliefs resonate with your own, when they demonstrate their loyalty and when they’re willing to turn down better offers or other options.

 As for customers, never mistake repeat business for loyalty. Repeat business means people do business with you multiple times. Loyalty means people are willing to turn down a better offer to continue doing business with you. Loyal customers don’t even bother to research the competition or other options.

The Brain Science of Inspiration

Sinek created a diagram called “The Golden Circle,” which represents how successful leaders and companies motivate people.

golden circle sinek 150x150 Leadership and the Power of Why

Those who start with why engage others’ brains long before explaining how they intend to get things done and addressing what they need to accomplish.

Martin Luther King Jr. engaged the world’s hearts and minds when he started his speech with those four famous words: “I have a dream.” He stressed that people of all races needed to bond for a better future. He didn’t say, “I have a plan,” or explain how he intended to change laws and practices.

Starting communications with “why” works because it’s based in biology. While messages are simultaneously processed by all parts of the brain, the area most responsible for decision-making registers subconscious thoughts, lacks language, uses gut intuition, and is heavily influenced by feelings and drives for survival.

This part of the brain wants to know: What’s in it for me? Is this pleasure or pain? A threat or something that will make my life easier? Can I trust the messenger? Does he/she have my best interests at heart?

When you share your greater cause and higher purpose, listeners filter the message and decide to trust you (or not). When listeners’ values and purpose resonate with your own, they are primed to become followers who will favourably perceive subsequent messages.

You cannot gain a foothold in someone’s brain by leading with what you want them to do. You must first communicate why it’s important.

Strive to be one of those leaders who never lose sight of why they do what they do and why people should care. Only then will you inspire your people to attain sustainable success.


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