How do great leaders inspire action?

Anyone familiar with the TEDx talks will invariably be aware of the talk by leadership expert and prolific speaker, Simon Sinek. His views on what makes a good leader have captured the attention of many a senior manager in boardrooms across the country. So what makes his views any different to those of other management theorists?

Sinek’s talk has at time of writing been viewed in excess of 25 million times since it was first aired in 2009, and there is a very good reason for its popularity. His approach effectively turns most hitherto existing leadership theories on its head.

He introduces the concept of a ‘golden circle’ that consists of what you do and how you do it, with the key question ‘why’ you do what you do at its epicentre. It is the latter that forms the crux to successful leadership, he argues.

According to Sinek, most organisations – be it healthcare, education or a business such as ours – focus too much on selling what they do and the way in which they are different to other providers operating in the same space, rather than the reason why they do what they do in the first place.

This, he asserts, leaves organisations failing to effectively differentiate themselves from each other, let alone position themselves as being ‘innovative’, which many claim to be. Rather Sinek proposes that good leadership comes from thinking and communicating from the inside out – as he puts it “it all starts with the ‘why’”.

In other words, what is your belief, cause or purpose? Why should people care? “People don’t buy what you do,” he says. “They buy why you do it.”

To illustrate his point, Sinek uses the example of Apple – a company who markets their values (“thinking differently and challenging the status quo”) and rationalises these with the ‘how’ and ‘what’ (“beautiful designs and brilliant computers”).

In essence, the goal is not to do business with people who need what you have to offer, rather to do it with those people who share your views – something that we sign up to, too.

Indeed, Carter Schwartz was set up with a single purpose in mind: To fuel the growth ambitions of our clients by bringing talented people to their organisations. As a by-product of this, we help professionals to fulfill their career ambitions.

To achieve this means approaching business very differently to the way in which others in our market do. In our case it means bringing in people with extensive sector experience from within the independent social, healthcare and education sectors and leveraging this experience to collectively offer a solution that differs from anything that was already serving this space. It’s a formula that has proven to be very successful and one that Sinek would most certainly approve of [Read more on this in the latest issue of Global Recruiter].

Indeed, in his talk Sinek goes on to speak about the importance for leaders to take the time to find the right staff that is driven by the same cause. This, he argues, will result in a more committed workforce, helping leaders to build a business that will last.

Sinek stresses the importance of looking after your people so that they can look after the business. Leaders should therefore give their staff greater responsibility and accountability, show them respect and recognise their achievements.

Above all, leaders should seek to inspire their teams and in doing so they will have people who will follow them because they are motivated to do so and not because they have to through obligation. It is this distinction that characterises good leadership and Sinek maintains that it is those managers who start with ‘why’ that can successfully inspire those around them.