Simon Sinek, How Great Leaders Inspire Action


Simon Sinek is one of the most profound public speakers of our time and this video helped launch his career. In his 2009 TED Talk, acclaimed management theorist Simon Sinek laid out the cases for how great leaders inspire action. To date, the video of the talk has been viewed over 35 million times. Here are the key insights.

The Golden Circle

According to Simon, all of the most innovated companies and leaders follow the exact same pattern. For Simon, this pattern is what he calls, ‘The Golden Circle.’ According to Simon, all people and companies know WHAT they want to do, and most know HOW they aim to do it. But according to Simon, very few individuals or organizations are clear on WHY they want to do what they do. Simon explains that by WHY he is not referring to the answer, ‘for profits’. Instead, Simon is referencing the true purpose the company or individual serves in regard to the great whole of society.

It is natural to progress from the outer cause of ‘What are we doing’, to the more involved question of, “How we will do it’, to finally the core matter of ‘Why we are doing it’, but for Simon this logic is inverted. According to Simon, the most success companies start with this WHY and move outward.

Practical Applications

As an example Simon points to Apple. According to Simon, if Apple were to market in the typical outside-in fashion, their marketing would appear something like: ‘We make great computers (What they do), they’re beautifully designed and extremely user friendly (How they’re special), and that’s why you should buy one (Why you should buy one).’ To Simon, and to the rest of us, this is clearly a less than inspiring sales pitch. Instead, Simon points to the way Apple actually communicates their message; from the inside-out. For Simon, this message is communicated by the following: ‘We believe in thinking differently (Why), we think differently is by making beautifully designed and user friendly products (How), we just so happen to make great computers (What). To Simon, the impact of this ‘inside-out’ sales pitch dramatically increases the desire for the product. According to Simon the reason this approach is so effective is because people are more interested in why you are doing something, than what you are actually doing. This is why we are so buying Apple products, because we trust their WHY.

Biology at Work

According to Simon, this decision is made on a biological level. The inside out approach gets to the core of what we desire most; to understand WHY someone is doing something. When communicating on this level, brands and individuals communicate to our gut-instincts, to our feelings. According to Simon, Dell has attempted to sell MP3 players as well. Dell is more than qualified to produce a comparable product with Apple. But fewer people buy Dell’s MP3 player because Dell has not communicated an adequate reason for WHY we should. They haven’t cut to the heart of our beliefs about who we are the same way Apple has. The goal then according to Simon, is not to sell to people who need what you have, the goal is to sell to people who believe what you believe.

A Final Proof

As a finally proof, Simon points to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In 1968, over 250,000 people showed up on the mall in Washington to hear Dr. Martin Luther King speak. The only way that was accomplished, especially before the internet, was because Dr. King’s message spread. And the reason that message spread is because Dr. Martin Luther King constantly talked about what he believed, and what he believed resonated with what other people believed and spoke to their identities. According to Simon, what Dr. Martin Luther King believed was that there were two types of laws in this world: those that were made by a higher authority, and those that were made by men. He believed that not until all the laws that were made by men were consistent with the laws made by God would we live in a just world. According to Simon, it is by inspiring others that we get them to take action and that this is the true measure of those who lead.

According to Simon, this all comes down to the difference between ‘leaders’ and ‘those who lead’. According to Simon, leaders are those who serve in a position of authority. However, those who lead inspire. According to Simon, we follow those individuals and companies who lead not because we have to, but because we want to. And we follow those who lead not for their benefit, but for our own. So with this in mind, it will not be until we are truly clear on our WHY that we will be able to inspire those we lead.

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