Simon Sinek : Start with Why

I first came across Simon Sinek’s work when training as a Vistage Chair in San Diego earlier this year. Sinek has a simple yet powerful message which he captures in his book ‘Start with Why’. And the message is this – people do not buy what you do or even how you do it, they buy why you do what you do. Most of us in describing ourselves, or our businesses, start with explaining what we do and then how we do it. Simon Sinek challenges us to start our conversations with why we do what we do for then we will attract people who believe what we believe rather than people who want what we have.

There are many applications of this simple and powerful idea. My own first reaction was to visit my LinkedIn profile. Sure enough there was a lot in there about what I did but not why I did it so I wrote a new opening paragraph in the summary about why I do what I do. I have also captured this in my profile headline – ‘transforming the triple bottom line’. I do what I do because I believe it is time for business leaders to step up to a bigger, braver role in the world to transform the triple bottom line – great financial results, strong personal relationships and a positive contribution to the wider community. As Simon Sinek would say, that’s my why.

Ian and I then had a discussion about this in the context of our collaboration with ‘Challenging Coaching’. We were on a three hour car journey to Ipswich to deliver a pro-bono conference session on our work. After a couple of hours driving and just as we were both contemplating a late night return at the end of a busy week, I turned to Ian and said ‘Why are we doing this?’ We laughed and it prompted a conversation about why we do what we do. Our answer to this question is that we believe that coaching is bigger than coaching. We believe that coaching has sprung up in corporate life over the last ten years for a specific reason – to help leaders adapt to the changing expectations of 21st century stakeholders. To help them to be more than they currently are. To challenge them to serve the system not just themselves. In the process of doing this, I believe they will also transform the triple bottom line I referred to earlier. So now when we introduce our challenging coaching workshops we reference Simon Sinek’s work and we start with why. In doing so we hope that we will attract people who believe what we believe. You could call them members of our tribe.

One you know your why, you can identify your tribe and you can focus your attention. For example, I subscribe to Harvard Business Review yet it is difficult for me to find the time to read it cover to cover each month. So now I start with my why and I can pinpoint quickly the articles written by members of my tribe. In this month’s edition, there is an article titled ‘The Brain and Soul of Capitalism’ written by Nancy Koehn. I suspect Nancy is a member of my tribe. In the article, Nancy quotes the CEO of Starbuck’s, Howard Schulz, as saying – ‘To be a benevolent organisation, you have to make a lot of profit. But if you’re sole goal is to maximise profit, you’re on a collision course with time.’ Why do I believe this is true? Because my kids and your kids will need an even bigger why to do what they do. They are not going to get out of bed on a cold, wet December morning just to maximise profits. Engaging their minds and their hearts will require a more noble vision than this not least because theirs will be a generation that inherits a clutch of global, systemic issues who resolution cannot be postponed indefinitely. This is what I believe. This my why. What is yours?

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