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

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
Author: Simon Sinek
Publisher: Portfolio
Published: 10/29/2009
Why are some people and organizations more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others? Why do some command greater loyalty from customers and employees alike? Even among the successful, why are so few able to repeat their success over and over?

Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Key Takeaways

The difference between leaders and those who lead is that leaders are a placeholder in positions of power. We follow those who lead because we choose to and not out of obligation. When we choose who we follow, we’ve done so because we’ve aligned our values with the ‘why’ of the leader: we’ve emotionally connected and formed our logic (the ‘what’) around our emotional connection. Those who lead, focus on the ‘Why’; leaders simply focus on ‘What’.

About the Author

Born in Wimbledon, London, Simon Sinek is a motivational speaker, author and organizational consultant. After working for the New York ad agencies Euro RSCG and Ogilvy & Mather, Sinek embarked on his own entrepreneurial endeavors and started his own company, Sinek Partners. In addition to Start with Why, Sinek also authored Leaders Eat Last, among other books. He has given talks for the United Nations and has presented at the TEDx conference.

Chapter-By-Chapter Breakdown

Chapter 1

-Looking at the bigger picture helps us focus more on long-term gains.

-An example of this is the American vs. Japanese auto manufacturer approach to assembly line production. American auto manufacturers apply final fixes to vehicle door components at the end of the assembly line. Japanese auto manufacturers design the doors to fit from the onset of production and don’t rely on last-minute fixes to make them work.

-The two types of leaders are those who manipulate and those who inspire.

Chapter 2

-Two ways to attract customers based on the carrot-and-stick model: either inspire the carrot or manipulate the stick.

-True leadership means being able to inspire.

-True leadership means instilling within others a sense of purpose.

-Those who lead genuinely inspire their following and are fulfilled by the act of inspiring, in and of itself.

-Behavior is influenced in two ways:



-Examples of manipulation include sales, advertisements, promotions, and marketing.

-Manipulation works because they employ fear (i.e. FOMO- Fear Of Missing Out), shame and guilt to coerce a person into making a specific decision.

-Manipulations do not work in the long run; manipulation does not sustain for years because there is no sense of loyalty to the relationship behind the manipulation.

Chapter 3

-The ‘How’, ‘What’ and ‘Why’ represent a 3-dimensional circle representing the core of a business’s model and operations.

-The three tiers that distinguish the motivations behind an organization’s leadership decisions are:

-What- What does the organization do?

-How- How does the organization do it?

-Why- Does the organization do it/ what is the motivation behind it?

-All organizations know what they do. Some know how they do it. Few know why they do it.

-“What is the company’s purpose and why should anyone care?” According to Sinek, organizations must first address the ‘Why’ in order to lead by inspiration.

-An example of a company that starts with ‘Why’: Apple.

-Apple stresses that they seek to challenge the status quo in everything that they do. This gains the customer’s emotional buy-in.

-The ‘How’ for Apple is by developing aesthetically-pleasing, user-friendly technology devices.

-The ‘What’ for Apple is that they sell great computers.

-Companies that start with ‘What’ may generate some interest in the company’s products or services, but starting with ‘Why’ creates a sense of belonging.

-Companies that start with ‘Why’ gain client/ customer buy-in to their cause because it connects values to values: target audience members are able to feel a sense of belonging when engaging in the company.

Chapter 4

-The need to feel ‘a part of’ and ‘belonging to’ a group is a biological need; thus the Golden Circle matches our biological predispositions.

-The ‘What’, ‘How’ and ‘Why’ questions can be mapped in the brain:

-‘What’ takes place in the neocortex- the center for analytical thinking.

-‘How’ and ‘Why’ thinking occurs in the limbic brain, the area that handles emotions and decision-making.

-The limbic brain is why we struggle with emotional articulation and expressing our feelings: language is not governed by this region.

-Starting with ‘What’ means that you force your potential consumer to make a rational decision with no evidence of why they should be deciding in the first place.

Chapter 5

-Starting with ‘Why’ lets the consumer make a decision first while the neocortex works to rationalize it.

-Finding the ‘Why’ is not difficult because it is nothing more than a belief. The difficulty lies in being held accountable as staying true to the belief may be difficult.

-To start with why quit mistaking the ‘What’ as the end and not the means.

Chapter 6

-Trust is neither rational nor logical. Trust is rooted in emotions and feelings.

-Trust is mandatory for true leaders to be followed.

-Trust is earned by demonstrating to your desired following that you hold the same values and beliefs.

-‘Why’ = just the belief, ‘How’s’= the actions taken, ‘What’s’= the results that we get from our actions. When these synchronize, trust is established. When trust is established, followers see value in leadership.

Chapter 7

-How do you differentiate between a fad and an idea that can change lives forever?

-The Law of Diffusion of Innovations by Everett M. Rogers is a bell curve describing the percentage of the market who adopts your product.

-The far left of the curve represents the type of people who wait outside of the Apple store for the latest iPhone whereas the far right represents clients who are never content.

-Those on the far right might do business with you but are likely to switch to your competitor if a deal arises.

-The goal of business is to be clear about your ‘why’ and to find clients who believe in what you do.

-Once you get enough of the 15-18% on the left side of the bell curve, they will encourage the rest to follow.

Chapter 8

-Energy motivates but charisma inspires.

-All great leaders have charisma because they have clarity of “why”, an undying belief in a purpose or cause bigger than themselves.

-An example of this is energetic Steve Ballmer and awkward and shy, but charismatic, Bill Gates. When Ballmer speaks people are energized but that dissipates quickly but when Gates speaks people listen intently and tend to remember his lessons over time.

-Charisma commands loyalty, energy does not.

-Behind every “Why” type of leader, is a “How” type of leader who brings the “Why” to life.

-“Why” types are optimistic visionaries who tend to believe that everything they imagine can be accomplished and tend to focus on things most can’t see, like the future.

-“How” types are practical realists who tend to focus on things most can see and are therefore better at building them.

-“How” types can be successful, but rarely end up building world-changing, billion-dollar businesses.

-“How” types can thrive without a “why” type yet “why” types would be lost without a “how” type.

-The difference between “why” and “how” also describes the difference between a mission statement or vision of an organization.

-The vision is the founders' intent, or the “why”.

-The mission statement is a description of “how” the company will attain that future.

Chapter 9

-The leader of a small company has plenty of contact with the outside world but as the company grows, he/she will no longer be the loudest part of the megaphone but rather the source of the message that is to flow through the megaphone.

-“Why” exists in the part of the brain that controls feelings and decision making.

-“What” exists in the part of the brain that controls rational thought and language.

-The leader is the symbol of the reason we do what we do: the emotional limbic brain.

-The company’s actions represent the rationality and language of the neocortex.

-Many companies struggle to communicate their true values.

-When humans are at a loss for words they use other means such as imagery, metaphors, or symbols to communicate.

-Marketing strategies, when done properly, are simply a way for organizations to communicate with the outside world.

Chapter 10

-Symbols only have meaning because we give them meaning and logos can only become a symbol when it inspires people to use it to say something about themselves.

-An example is the Harley Davidson logo which embodies an entire set of values and is therefore no longer about Harley Davidson but rather the lifestyle it implies.

-The ‘Celery Test’ helps to distinguish between what’s good for you as opposed to good for your competitor.

-To grow do you need Nutella, cookies, celery, fruit, and ice cream? No, because a lot of that is superfluous. Filter all of it through your “why” to realize that you only need the fruit and/or celery.

-The celery test helps to save money, time, and to stay true to your values.

Chapter 11

-Some companies lose sight of their original “why”.

-Take Walmart and Volkswagen by example. Volkswagen literally means “car of the people” so when they introduced their $70,000 VW Phaeton they contradicted their own “why” and sold nothing. Walmart was started by Sam Walton with the idea of helping communities by providing products at low prices but after the death of its founders, the company only focused on low prices. Walmart became very cutthroat and got into trouble by losing its initial “why”.

-Important to have the discipline to stay true to your cause or belief.

Chapter 12

-Most companies begin with a passionate idea.

-This same passion can lead to irrational actions.

-Companies need both “hows” and “whys”.

Chapter 13

-Sinek disagrees with the idea that initial market research is key.

-The “why” will not come from looking ahead to what you hope to achieve and then creating a strategy to get there.

-The “why” comes from looking in a completely different direction than where you are now.

-The “why” is a process of discovery, not invention.

-The “why” is within you and the hardest part is staying true to this “why”.

Chapter 14

-When you are competing with everyone else, no one wants to help you.

-When you are competing with yourself, everyone wants to help.

-Businesses are always competing amongst themselves and thus: no help.

-Imagine if we showed up to work each day with the intent to be better than ourselves?

-All organizations start with “why” but only the great ones will work to maintain their “why” year after year.

-Those who forget “Why” they were founded show up to the race every day to outdo someone else instead of outdoing themselves forgetting that it is you your best competitor.


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