Learning Series

May 20 2016 // 5:00 AM

Reviewing: Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

Written by Alex Smith | @PAEVENalex

What do Martin Luther King Jr., Ernest Shackleton, and Apple Inc. all have in common? Simon Sinek argues that they were all able to inspire people around them to accomplish their goals. Throughout his book Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, he explains how these and other leaders and organizations use direct and indirect messages to make their “why” clear, and then reinforce that sentiment in everything they do and say. Sinek’s anecdotes demonstrate that being a great leader is about inspiring people to take action – not for the leader, but for themselves. The book is less of a manual in finding your “why,” but an overview of the way beliefs are valuable in shaping the mission and appeal of a company or idea – both in history and modern day. When people act on behalf of their shared beliefs, they are more loyal, passionate, and satisfied with their work, which results in a better end product.

Sinek describes a situation where you find two stone masons working on a very large wall. The first mason you encounter describes his job as monotonous, back breaking, and never-ending. He has been building this wall for quite some time and is discouraged because he may never see it completed in his lifetime. The second mason begins to describe the same job, but with a different purpose. The job is difficult, back breaking and may not be completed in his lifetime, but he exclaims, “I am building a cathedral.”

The clarity of purpose and excitement for the goal reframes the context of the work to be done.

The greater purpose provides a sense of fulfillment and commitment to one’s work. The second mason is less likely to be enticed by another job offering better pay or easier work, and he is more willing to work harder and do the job right. Sense of purpose is the key. Simon argues, “it’s not a coincidence that the companies with which we like to do business are also great employers.” These companies understand how to inspire their employees and give them a sense of purpose. 

What does this have to do with architecture, engineering, development, and building? When thinking about practice, define what it is you are trying to accomplish. There must a reason you found your way to your current position. Can the product of your work or how you interact with clients manifest that core vision and build loyalty to the services you provide?

Why does your company exist? Do the people inside your organization hold true to the same values that the company was founded upon? In an organization with a clear statement of purpose, the mechanisms for people to accomplish the company’s goals are clearly understood, and they give people the resources to carry out the mission of the company. From the outside, loyalty and trust is built in the brand; that core philosophy can resonate in the public relationships the organization must have in order to operate. Most people have some sense of what their core “why” is, and it’s time to rediscover and strengthen that “why” for yourself.

I’d recommend picking up a copy of the book or listening to the audio version.  Start With Why is a useful, thought provoking book that will get you thinking about why you do what you do, and how you can leverage your purpose to make your message clear.

If you have some free time right now, you should watch Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on the topic: How Great Leaders Inspire Action.

Do you already know your why? Let me know in the comments below.


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