Start With Why – How Great Leaders Inspire Action


We can all think of people or organisations that inspire us. They make us see the world from a different perspective; they cause us to change the way that we live our lives. But why is it that they inspire us? There is something unique about the way that these people & organisations act. Simon Sinek1, in his now famous TED Talk, “How great leaders inspire action 2,” which has over 11.5 million views, shares an idea which he calls the Golden Circle to explain this.

The Golden Circle

On a whiteboard he draws 3 concentric circles. In the centre he writes ‘Why’, in the next circle he writes ‘How’, and in the outermost circle he writes ‘What.’

“This little idea explains why some organisations and some leaders are able to inspire, where others aren’t … Every single person, every single organisation on the planet know what they do … Some know how they do it. Whether you call it your differentiating value proposition or your proprietary process or your USP. But very, very few people or organisations know why they do what they do, and by why I don’t mean to make a profit, that’s a result … 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 … The way we think, the way we act, the way we communicate, is from the outside [of the circle] in. It’s obvious, we go from the clearest thing to the fussiest thing. But the inspired leaders and the inspired organisations, regardless of their size, regardless of their industry, all think, act and communicate from the inside [of the circle] out.

Let me give you an example. I use Apple because they’re easy to understand and everybody gets it. If Apple were like everyone else, a marketing message from them might sound like this, ‘We make great computers, they’re beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. Want to buy one?’ And that’s how most of us communicate … we say what we do, we say how we’re different or how we’re better, and we expect some sort of behaviour [such as] a purchase, a vote, or something like that.

‘Here is our new law firm, we have the best lawyers with the biggest clients, we always perform for our clients, do business with us.’

‘Here is our new car, it gets great gas mileage, it has leather seats, buy our car.’

But it’s uninspiring.

Here’s how Apple actually communicates:

‘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; do you want to buy one?’

Totally different, right? All I did was reverse the order of the information. What it proves to us is that people don’t buy what you do, people buy why you do it … The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have, the goal is to business with people who believe what you believe.” (Sinek, 2010, 00:02:14) 2

This is a very simple idea, with potentially life changing implications. Think about all the people and organisations  that inspire us with the Golden Circle in mind, and it all begins to make sense.

This is All Rooted in Biology

“If you look at a cross-section of the human brain looking from the top down, what you see is that the human brain is actually broken into three major components that correlate perfectly with the Golden Circle … Our neocortex corresponds with the ‘what’ level. The neocortex is responsible for all of our rational and analytical thought, and language.

The middle two sections [that correspond with the ‘how’ and ‘why’ level] make up our limbic brains, and our limbic brains are responsible for all of our feelings like trust and loyalty. It’s also responsible for all human behaviour, all decision-making, and it has no capacity for language.

In other words, when we communicate from the outside in, yes, people can understand vast amounts of complicated information like features and benefits and facts and figures, it just doesn’t drive behaviour. When we 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. Sometimes you can give somebody all the facts and figures and they say, ‘I know what all the facts and details say, but it just doesn’t feel right.’ Why would we use that verb, it just doesn’t feel right? Because the part of the brain that controls decision making, doesn’t control language … But if you don’t know why you do what you do, and people respond to why you do what you do, then how will you ever get people to vote for you or buy something from you or more importantly, be loyal, and want to be a part of what it is that you do.

Again, the goal is not just to sell to people who need what you have, the goal is to sell to people who believe what you believe.

The goal is not to hire people who need a job, it’s to hire people who believe what you believe.” (Sinek, 2010, 00:06:00) 2

We’re constantly presented with what seems like an endless number of decisions to be made throughout the day; therefore, we hope this this post offered some insight into why we’re making those decisions, and more importantly, how we can improve our decision making skills.

We strongly encourage you to discover your Why. If you search Google for ‘how to find your why by Simon Sinek,’ there are various resources available. He also has an online course called the ‘WHY Discovery Course’ which can be found here. There is a cost attached to this course, but to be clear, we have no affiliation with him or his educational material.

We hope you found this information valuable. If you know of anyone who you feel would benefit from this post, please do share it with them. If you have any burning questions simply hit reply, or contact us here

Reference list:

1) Simon Sinek (

2) How great leaders inspire action (2010) YouTube Video, added by TED [Online]. Available at [Accessed: 9 March 2020].

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