Favourite Leadership Resource #1: Start with Why

I mentioned last post that over the next few weeks I’ll blog on some of the resources I’ve found most influential on my recent journey into leadership. My criteria in selecting these particular resources is not only that they’re good, but that I implemented them immediately. The first such resource is Simon Sinek’s Start with Why.

Favourite leadership resource #1:


Simon Sinek, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Toronto: Portfolio/Penguin, 2009. (Download a free chapter here.)

Sinek’s book expands on his extremely popular TED Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” (here) and, for anyone in leadership, watching that talk is eighteen minutes well invested!

Sinek introduces “The Golden Circle,” what he identifies as a biological success formula:


In short, whereas most people and corporations begin by explaining WHAT they do – make computers, fly aeroplanes, teach mathematics -, successful people and corporations routinely begin by articulating WHY they do what they do. So Apple doesn’t “make computers” – that’s WHAT they do. Instead, Apple believes in challenging the status quo; in thinking differently. That they happen to make computers (their WHAT) is really only a particular expression of their WHY. This is why we’re also happy to buy from them cell phones and tablets and Apple tvs.

Sinek roots the success of beginning with WHY in biology, namely, the brain’s development. WHY takes place in the most ancient part of the brain, the pre-linguistic limbic region; WHAT occurs in our most developed part of the brain, the neocortex. WHY is from that part of us that is pre-rational, instinctual, giving us gut-level, deep-down beliefs, and it’s from that area that most of us still make most decisions about life.

Why Brain

Successful individuals and corporations tap into that basic region of human belief, making their products or services infinitely more attractive to consumers who share their basic beliefs than any rationalization or manipulation could achieve. This leads to Sinek’s often repeated mantra: “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.”

So WHY functions as an almost un-articulable belief. HOW consists of the actions taken to realize that belief, and WHAT is the results of those actions.

Interestingly, and apparently completely independent of Sinek, Patrick Lencioni prescribes a similar path in his book, The Advantage.


Partrick Lencioni, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business (Jossey-Bass, 2012).

Lencioni prescribes six critical questions that leaders must answer to build healthy organizations. Significantly, these start with WHY, HOW, and WHAT:

Question 1: WHY do we exist?

Question 2: HOW do we behave?

Question 3: WHAT do we do?

Lencioni’s remaining three questions really amount to particularizing the first three. That is, whereas the first three questions identify something constant and almost timeless, the last three produce answers that are temporary and variable, strategies for successfully achieving WHY, HOW, and WHAT in particular – and regularly changing – contexts.

Question 4: How will we succeed?

Question 5: What is most important, right now?

Question 6: Who must do what?

Starting with WHY has been essential to our development as a Christian college. It gets us out of bed in the morning to realize that we don’t exist “to teach people.” That may be WHAT we do, but WHY we do it is to participate in God’s project of advancing His Kingdom in a hurting and broken world. It drives us to offer the highest quality training (WHAT) in ways that emphasize competency in Kingdom workers (HOW) because we believe God invites us into His Kingdom project (WHY).

To see more from Sinek, including the diagrams used in this post and free powerpoint presentations, see his website, here.


4 thoughts on “Favourite Leadership Resource #1: Start with Why

  1. Thank you Jeromey. We all need to remember the why as Christians. God bless you as you move forward His kingdom.

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