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

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

By SajeethPublished about a year ago 7 min read
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

Start with Why is one of the most useful and powerful books I have read in years. Simple and elegant, it shows us how leaders should lead.”

-WILLIAM URY, coauthor of Getting to Yes

“Start with Why fanned the flames inside me. This book can lead you to levels of excellence you never considered attainable.”

-GENERAL CHUCK HORNER, air boss, Desert Storm

“Each story will force you to see things from an entirely different perspective. A perspective that is nothing short of the truth.”

-MOKHTAR LAMANI, former ambassador, special envoy to Iraq

About the Author

SIMON SINEK, the bestselling author of LEADERS EAT LAST and TOGETHER IS BETTER, is an optimist who believes in a brighter future for humanity. He teaches leaders and organizations how to inspire people and has presented his ideas around the world, from small startups to Fortune 50 corporations, from Hollywood to Congress to the Pentagon. His TED Talk based on START WITH WHY is the third most popular TED video of all time. Learn more about his work and how you can inspire those around you at StartWithWhy.com.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

1

ASSUME YOU KNOW

On a cold January day, a forty-three-year-old man was

sworn in as the chief executive of his country. By his side

stood his predecessor, a famous general who, fifteen years

earlier, had commanded his nation’s armed forces in a war

that resulted in the defeat of Germany. The young leader

was raised in the Roman Catholic faith. He spent the next

fi ve hours watching parades in his honor and stayed up

celebrating until three o’clock in the morning.

You know who I’m describing, right?

It’s January 30, 1933, and I’m describing Adolf Hitler and not,

as most people would assume, John F. Kennedy.

The point is, we make assumptions. We make assumptions

about the world around us based on sometimes incomplete or false

information. In this case, the information I offered was incomplete.

Many of you were convinced that I was describing John F. Kennedy

until I added one minor little detail: the date.

This is important because our behavior is affected by our assumptions

or our perceived truths. We make decisions based on

what we think we know. It wasn’t too long ago that the majority of

people believed the world was flat. This perceived truth impacted behavior.

During this period, there was very little exploration. People

feared that if they traveled too far they might fall off the edge

of the earth. So for the most part they stayed put. It wasn’t until

that minor detail was revealed—the world is round—that behaviors

changed on a massive scale. Upon this discovery, societies

began to traverse the planet. Trade routes were established; spices

were traded. New ideas, like mathematics, were shared between societies

which unleashed all kinds of innovations and advancements.

The correction of a simple false assumption moved the human race

forward.

Now consider how organizations are formed and how decisions

are made. Do we really know why some organizations succeed and

why others don’t, or do we just assume? No matter your defi nition

of success—hitting a target stock price, making a certain amount

of money, meeting a revenue or profi t goal, getting a big promotion,

starting your own company, feeding the poor, winning public

office—how we go about achieving our goals is very similar. Some

of us just wing it, but most of us try to at least gather some data so

we can make educated decisions. Sometimes this gathering process

is formal—like conducting polls or market research. And

sometimes it’s informal, like asking our friends and colleagues for

advice or looking back on our own personal experience to provide

some perspective. Regardless of the process or the goals, we all want

to make educated decisions. More importantly, we all want to make

the right decisions.

As we all know, however, not all decisions work out to be the

right ones, regardless of the amount of data we collect. Sometimes

the impact of those wrong decisions is minor, and sometimes it can

be catastrophic. Whatever the result, we make decisions based on a

perception of the world that may not, in fact, be completely accurate.

Just as so many were certain that I was describing John F.

Kennedy at the beginning of this section. You were certain you were

right. You might even have bet money on it—a behavior based on

an assumption. Certain, that is, until I offered that little detail of

the date.

Not only bad decisions are made on false assumptions. Sometimes

when things go right, we think we know why, but do we really?

That the result went the way you wanted does not mean you

can repeat it over and over. I have a friend who invests some of his

own money. Whenever he does well, it’s because of his brains and

ability to pick the right stocks, at least according to him. But when

he loses money, he always blames the market. I have no issue with

either line of logic, but either his success and failure hinge upon his

own prescience and blindness or they hinge upon good and bad

luck. But it can’t be both.

So how can we ensure that all our decisions will yield the best

results for reasons that are fully within our control? Logic dictates

that more information and data are key. And that’s exactly what

we do. We read books, attend conferences, listen to podcasts and

ask friends and colleagues—all with the purpose of finding out

more so we can figure out what to do or how to act. The problem

is, we’ve all been in situations in which we have all the data and get

lots of good advice but things still don’t go quite right. Or maybe

the impact lasted for only a short time, or something happened

that we could not foresee. A quick note to all of you who correctly

guessed Adolf Hitler at the beginning of the section: the details I

gave are the same for both Hitler and John F. Kennedy, it could have

been either. You have to be careful what you think you know. Assumptions,

you see, even when based on sound research, can lead

us astray.

Intuitively we understand this. We understand that even with

mountains of data and good advice, if things don’t go as expected,

it’s probably because we missed one, sometimes small but vital detail.

In these cases, we go back to all our sources, maybe seek out

some new ones, and try to figure out what to do, and the whole

process begins again. More data, however, doesn’t always help, especially

if a flawed assumption set the whole process in motion in

the fi rst place. There are other factors that must be considered, factors

that exist outside of our rational, analytical, informationhungry

brains.

There are times in which we had no data or we chose to ignore

the advice or information at hand and just went with our gut and

things worked out just fine, sometimes even better than expected.

This dance between gut and rational decision-making pretty much

covers how we conduct business and even live our lives. We can

continue to slice and dice all the options in every direction, but at

the end of all the good advice and all the compelling evidence, we’re

left where we started: how to explain or decide a course of action

that yields a desired effect that is repeatable. How can we have 20/20

foresight?

There is a wonderful story of a group of American car executives

who went to Japan to see a Japanese assembly line. At the

end of the line, the doors were put on the hinges, the same as in

America. But something was missing. In the United States, a line

worker would take a rubber mallet and tap the edges of the door to

ensure that it fit perfectly. In Japan, that job didn’t seem to exist.

Confused, the American auto executives asked at what point they

made sure the door fit perfectly. Their Japanese guide looked at

them and smiled sheepishly. “We make sure it fits when we design

it.” In the Japanese auto plant, they didn’t examine the problem

and accumulate data to figure out the best solution—they engineered

the outcome they wanted from the beginning. If they didn’t

achieve their desired outcome, they understood it was because of a

decision they made at the start of the process.

At the end of the day, the doors on the American-made and

Japanese-made cars appeared to fit when each rolled off the assembly

line. Except the Japanese didn’t need to employ someone to

hammer doors, nor did they need to buy any mallets. More importantly,

the Japanese doors are likely to last longer and maybe even

be more structurally sound in an accident. All this for no other

reason than they ensured the pieces fit from the start.

What the American automakers did with their rubber mallets is

a metaphor for how so many people and organizations lead. When

faced with a result that doesn’t go according to plan, a series of

perfectly effective short-term tactics are used until the desired out-

come is achieved. But how structurally sound are those solutions?

So many organizations function in a world of tangible goals and the

mallets to achieve them. The ones that achieve more, the ones that

get more out of fewer people and fewer resources, the ones with an

outsized amount of infl uence, however, build products and companies

and even recruit people that all fit based on the original

intention. Even though the outcome may look the same, great leaders

understand the value in the things we cannot see.

Every instruction we give, every course of action we set, every

result we desire, starts with the same thing: a decision. There are

those who decide to manipulate the door to fit to achieve the desired

result and there are those who start from somewhere very

different. Though both courses of action may yield similar shortterm

results, it is what we can’t see that makes long-term success

more predictable for only one. The one that understood why the

doors need to fit by design and not by default.

interview

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