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How Great Leaders Inspire Action

A Breakdown of Simon Sinek's TED Talk

What set apart Apple, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Wright brothers from the rest of the population?

In his 18 minute talk, leadership expert Simon Sinek explained what makes great leaders effective and memorable.

He found a pattern among history’s ground breakers. They tend to think, act, and communicate in the same way. Sinek refers to this thought process as the Golden Circle, which is a circle with three layers.  The outer layer is what, the middle layer is how, and innermost layer is why.

To summarize: most people know what they do for work, some people know how they do it, and very few know why they do it.

Most companies work from the outside of the circle in. They tell you what they are selling and how they went about the process but rarely do they tell their customers the why of it all.

Inspired leaders work from the inside out. They start with why and work to the what.

When a company or person reverses the order of information, it changes everything. Sinek explained how many great items, like TiVo, have tanked because people didn’t care about why the company was doing what they were doing.

Sinek says this is not his opinion but biology. The cross section of a human brain corresponds to the Golden Circle. The brain too is broken into three areas. The first, the neocortex, is responsible for rational and analytical thought processes. The middle two sections are limbic areas which contain our feelings, behavior, and decision making. In Sinek’s words: “It’s where the gut decision comes from.”

Working “from the why” changes the way people work. Sinek used an example we’re all familiar with: the Wright brothers and their flight at Kitty Hawk. At the time, though, America was not watching the Wright brothers. They were watching a man named Samuel Pierpont Langley.

The War Department provided Samuel Pierpont Langley with $50,000 to create a flying machine. The New York Times had a reporter assigned to follow his pursuit of creating a flying machine. Langley was in the public eye, favored by the public, smart, well-connected, well-funded, and today only scholars know his name.

Meanwhile, no one on the Wright’s crew had a college degree, including the brothers themselves. There were no great connections, no substantial cash flow, and the eyes of the world were looking elsewhere. It didn’t matter. The Wright brothers and their team believed creating a flying machine would change the world.

Sinek described the difference between Lanley’s crew and the Wrights’ crew this way:

If you hire someone just because they can to do a job, they’ll work for your money, but if they believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with their blood, sweat, and tears.

Pursuit of riches does not amount to much.

Pursuit of belief has results beyond what we can imagine.


Notable Quotes:

People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.
The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.
If you hire someone just because they can to do a job, they’ll work for your money, but if they believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with their blood, sweat, and tears.
People who believed what he believe took his cause and made it their own.
[Martin Luther King Jr.] gave the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, not the ‘I Have a Plan’ speech.
There are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or authority but those who lead inspire us… We follow those who lead not because we have but because we want to. We follow those who lead not for them but for ourselves.

About the Speaker:

Simon Sinek is a leadership expert and strategic communications professor at Columbia University. He has two TED talks, one of which is among the 25 most famous TED talks of all time. His two books, Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last, are available on Amazon.

Images courtesy of Gum Road and Wikipedia.

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