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Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

Start With Why Book Cover
Book (with additional video)
Simon Sinek
Recommended by: Rob Dixon, Director, Department of Economic Development
Additional Video
Title: How great leaders inspire action | Simon Sinek
Date: May 4, 2010

1) What is your suggestion about?

Start with Why explores what differentiates transformational leaders and industry-defining organizations from everyone else. Sinek’s central point is that truly transformational leaders think, act, and communicate the same way. They always focus on the Why, instead of the How or the What. He defines “why” as the core beliefs or central purpose of the organization – why it exists in the first place. Why is different from “How,” which are the actions that accomplish that core belief, and “What,” which are the results of those actions.

2) Why did you chose it? 

We work in public service because we are following a higher calling – to serve our citizens and our state. In the daily grind of our work, though, it’s easy to lose sight of Why we’re here in the first place. We can easily spend all of our time concentrating on How we do our work and What we’re trying to accomplish, but if we don’t anchor all of that back to this higher purpose, we won’t be successful in truly serving our citizens.

3) What else do you want to tell us about it? 

Start with Why argues that customers and citizens make decisions based on two reasons: either they are convinced for short-term reasons (e.g., low price, fear, promotional gimmicks, etc.) or they connect with and see themselves in the organization’s Why. The short-term tools can work, but they don’t inspire anyone to follow them. It’s just a transaction. So their success is short-lived. Organizations that change the status quo – ones that tackle and solve the really big problems – do so by getting people to understand and believe in their Why. When customers and citizens make decisions for those reasons, they commit to the Why, too. Leaders embody the Why by consistent and disciplined communications about it. 

Why is passion, but without some structure to implement it, the passion goes nowhere. That means we have to design our organizations around the Why. How we accomplish it – our programs and services – must be strategically linked to accomplishing our ultimate purpose. Then, the results of those programs will naturally contribute to it. Everything in the organization should be filtered through the Why. It’s the difference between an organization that is laser-focused on accomplishing a mission and one that is essentially a loose collection of programs. We must have people that know What to do and How to do it, but it all has to Start with Why we’re doing it.

Sinek uses examples as diverse as Martin Luther King, Jr., Apple, and the Wright Brothers to bring his argument to life. 

As individuals, especially as our career progresses, it’s easy to drift away from our Why. We just focus on doing the job instead of Why we wanted the job in the first place. When we lose that connection, it’s easy to burn out, quit caring, and even become depressed. Keeping the passion burning for our Why will sustain us and our organizations over the years.

As we design performance metrics and use data to drive our decision-making, they have to Start with Why, too. Data will provide answers, but if we’re not asking the right question or we have flawed assumptions going in, it’s not going to provide helpful insights. Knowing our Why helps us to ask the right questions. 

Simon Sinek also has a great Ted Talk video about this, and it’s worth watching. It is one of the most popular TED talks ever with over 38,000,000 views. 

4) What is a key takeaway for leaders driving improvement in how we deliver for the citizens of Missouri?

There is a risk that we let our work become a series of transactions with our citizens, where we just cross tasks off the list and move on to the next, or it can be transformational in addressing Missouri’s greatest needs and in making our departments better. 

As leaders at every level, it’s up to us to help our team members see and understand the connection between their roles and the Why or the strategic objectives of our departments and our entire government. This linkage is the difference between just being busy every day and actually leaving Missouri better than we found it.

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  • Barbara Dismang, Department of Mental Health
  • May 21, 2018 10:53 am
  • I found this to be very true. The way things are delivered has a big impact on how ideas are accepted. If we could lead more with the why I feel the state would see more acceptance with the changes we endure from year to year.
  • Anna Marie Burkert, Department of Corrections
  • June 6, 2018 12:39 pm
  • I have been a long time employee for the MODOC 22 years as a Corrections Officer I. I do not believe that leadership is a "title" I believe in order for us to have good leadership the staff that follows must have trust, and respect for those in leadership rolls. I have discussed with many staff members in MODOC the current situation we are going thru, low pay, mandated overtime, lack of staff, these are things that the Officers are use to you learn to live on the money you make. A pay raise would be good however, that is not the key factor in Corrections the staff that we currently have fill as if there is no appreciation. We can not have a employee appreciation week and fix the problem. Staff that are in supervisor positions sometimes do not how to effectively communicate with the staff. Staff feels as if they are less than RESPeCTED. Hw do we correct such a problem? Not everyone is going to appreciate or even like a supervisor, we all have jobs we have to perform and things that we do not like to do. However you can train staff and teach staff and even have staff grievances that are checked into, but the main concern today is Dedicated, Devoted staff that do there jobs to the best of there abilities feel burnt out and unappreciated. No one goes to your job and gives you a pat on the back and says "Thanks for being here" no we don't exspect that as adults we chose a career in corrections and don't need that kind of praise. How do we get people to get on board to appreciate those around us respect the differences around us in order to achieve a common goal. Great leaders must not be Mary Poppins every day because we all can not,, however great leaders listen to there people that is how they become great. We seem to have a problem with corrections with people who feel as if they are at the top and no one else oppion matters. We need to devise a "Pay it Forward" attitude, classes will not instill this in people but patterns become habbits.
  • Sophia Brothers, Department of Social Services
  • July 24, 2018 3:48 pm
  • Very inspiring. If you do not have passion for what it is that you are doing, then you wont do it long. This is especially true for creative minds. People who have a vision and the audacity to take action for what it is that they believe in. This video just reinforced the leader within me and why I have chosen to create my path.