When you type the phrase ‘inspiring leaders’ into Google, the results are most likely what you’d expect — images of Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. But have you ever stopped to consider why these usual suspects show up time and time again in conversations about inspiring leadership, and what they might have in common, in terms of the way they think, act and communicate?
One of the most popular TED talks of all time, given by leadership expert Simon Sinek, considers this very question. With almost 20 million views, there are clearly many people who want to understand what it takes to lead in a way that inspires others, and why it is that some organisations and some leaders are able to inspire where others aren’t?
In his talk, Sinek claims to have discovered a pattern between these leaders, which he has codified into an idea called the ‘golden circle’.
“Every single person, every single organisation on the planet knows what they do, 100%. Some know how they do it, whether you call it your differentiated value proposition or your proprietary process or your USP. But very, very few people or organisations know why they do what they do…By “why,” I mean: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organisation exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?”
Core to Sinek’s ‘golden circle’ principle is the idea that “people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”
Citing Apple as a shining example, Sinek attributes the brand’s success to its ability to get people to believe in what it does by communicating why they do things the way they do. So rather than saying “we make great computers — want to buy one?”, Apple has always placed emphasis on communicating from the inside out, clarifying why it builds the products it does.
According to Sinek, Apple says: “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”
Sinek bases his theory upon scientific fact, and specifically, the biological make-up of the brain, which he says corresponds directly to his ‘golden circle’ rule.
A cross-section of the brain has three major components. The neocortex (on the outside) is responsible for all of our rational and analytical thought and language. Our limbic brains (the middle two sections) are responsible for all of our feelings, like trust and loyalty. They are also responsible for all human behaviour, all decision-making, and have no capacity for language.
So, according to Sinek, “when we can communicate from the inside out, we’re talking directly to the part of the brain that controls behaviour, and then we allow people to rationalise it with the tangible things we say and do. This is where gut decisions come from.”
Jimmy’s Iced Coffee
In his talk, Sinek says the goal is not just to sell to people who need what you have; the goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe. Hearing this made me think of wildly successful Jimmy’s Iced Coffee, a business local to me that was set up around three years ago by coffee-lover Jim Cregan. In that short period of time, the brand has become firmly recognised throughout the UK, and is stocked by the likes of Waitrose, Ocado, Budgens, Tesco Express, BP, Selfridges and Welcome Break.
Jim Cregan is a larger-than-life character who truly lives and breathes his brand and products. He loves good coffee and life – it’s a simple as that. For those who share his love, their endorsement of his product is a no-brainer. He has always communicated from the inside out – being brave enough to take on the coffee giants, challenging the quality of their shop-bought iced coffees, while keeping things fun and never taking the coffee message too seriously.
Sinek says, “Whether they’re individuals or organisations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves.”
So if you haven’t already, ask yourself why you do what you do every day. Once you can answer that with conviction, you’ll be more likely to hire those who share your beliefs and win the trust and loyalty of those whom you lead, whilst sprinkling a bit of inspiration along the way.