Start with WHY

Sinek, Simon. (2009). Start with Why.  New York:  Penguin.

The following stanza sets the tone for the book.  The WHY.os Institute is promoting understanding your own WHY to make a better fit between what you want and what you want from your work or organization. As always, italicized parts are direct quotes from the book.

There are leaders and there are those who lead.

Leaders hold a position of power or influence.

Those who lead inspire us.


Whether individuals or organizations, 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.


The book starts out with the story of the Wright Bros.  The competition, led by Samuel Pierpont Langley who received a $50,000 grant from the War Department.  Langley had backing, technical expertise, and want to build an airplane.  The Wright Brothers, on the other hand, came from a bicycle background.  The difference, the Wright Brothers wanted to fly.  To fly was the Wright Bros. ‘WHY.’

There are many examples where WHY supersedes the HOW.  Think of IBM and two guys in a garage who built an Apple.  Later Steve Jobs put the phone, music, internet, and information storage on a handheld device.  The difference, building computers and creating a new useable technology that integrated many functions.

History is replete with organizations who could not see a future or WHY they were in business.  It used to be ‘build a better mousetrap.’  Now, it is to create a new niche that has a more far-reaching purpose.  Martin Luther King Jr. knew how to inspire people.  August 28,1963: “I have a dream.”  He did not say he had a plan.  Plans are important and answer the question, ‘why is that important to you?’

“People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.”  Henry Ford summed it up best. “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Great leaders and great organizations are good at seeing what most of us can’t see.

Those who have an open mind for new ideas, who seek to create long-lasting success and who believe that your success requires the aid of others, I offer you a challenge. From now on, start with Why.  A very important statement in this book.

There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it, or you can inspire it.  Once you determine your WHY, people feel more connected and centered.  Other people are attracted to those leaders who have their WHY in clear focus.

Edwards Deming said years ago, “Drive out Fear.” When fear is employed, facts are incidental. This is how terrorism works. It’s the fear that it might happen that cripples a population. Organizational terrorism will drive committed people out of the company and sometimes the profession.

Some more examples from the book are Aspirations – ‘Quitting smoking is the easiest thing I’ve ever done,” said Mark Twain. “I’ve done it hundreds of times.” Gym memberships tend to rise about 12 percent every January, as people try to fulfill their New Year’s aspiration to live a healthier life. All too often, it is not the systems that fail but the ability to maintain them.

Our addiction to quick short-term results can interfere with the long-term loyalty of WHY. Just Because It Works Doesn’t Make It Right. The reality is, in today’s world, manipulations are the norm. But there is an alternative  

At the WHY.os Institute we assess your why and then find your HOW and WHAT.  In working with schools, business, and non-profits individuals and teams increase their appreciation of others once they find out their colleagues WHY.

Here is a crisp description. It all starts from the inside out. It all starts with WHY.

WHAT: Every single company and organization on the planet knows WHAT they do. WHATs are easy to identify.

HOW: Some companies and people know HOW they do WHAT they do.

WHY: Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. When I say WHY, I don’t mean to make money—that’s a result. By WHY I mean what is your purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?

Here is Apple’s communication:

  • 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.
  • And we happen to make great computers.
  • Wanna buy one?

It’s worth repeating people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it. Apple’s intention to challenge accepted thinking has proved prophetic.

Herb Kelleher, the head of Southwest for twenty years, was considered a heretic for positing the notion that it is a company’s responsibility to look after the employees first. Happy employees ensure happy customers, he said. And happy customers ensure happy shareholders—in that order. What all great leaders have in common is the ability to find good fits to join their organizations. Herb Kelleher famously said, “You don’t hire for skills, you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills.” 

You have to talk about your WHY and prove it with WHAT you do. Again, a WHY is just a belief, HOWs are the actions we take to realize that belief, and WHATs are the results of those actions.

Who would sign up for the following job posting?  ”Men wanted for Hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.”  This was the posting the Shackleton ran in the newspaper to get staff to explore the South Pole.

I think too much credit is attributed to charisma. Charisma has nothing to do with energy; it comes from a clarity of WHY. It’s not WHAT he does that gets him out of bed every morning. It’s WHY he does it.

Here is the title of Chapter 10.  Communication is Not About Speaking, It’s About Listening.  When I hear leaders tell me ‘I said it.’  So, what?  It is what the receiver hears and understands that determines what is communicated.

Here is a reality check.  The School Bus Test is a simple metaphor. If a founder or leader of an organization were to be hit by a school bus, would the organization continue to thrive at the same pace without them at the helm?  This requires succession planning.  I think we do a poor job of this in education and some businesses have the same problem.

To pass the School Bus Test, for an organization to continue to inspire and lead beyond the lifetime of its founder, the founder’s WHY must be extracted and integrated into the culture of the company.

Value is a feeling, not a calculation. It is perception. Money is never a cause; it is always a result.

HOW do YOU Be a Part of This Movement, Share your Vision of the World. Here are a few certified professionals to seek out if you would like to find your own WHY, HOW, and WHAT.  Me, William Sommers, Betty Burks, Dan Dominguez, Steph McFee, and Michelle McGlade

WHY is your non-negotiable

HOW is about how you go about it

WHAT is your gift

Leadership is always about people. No one leads a company. A company is a legal structure. You can run a company, you can manage an organization, but you can lead only people. And that requires two things.:

  • they must have a vision of the world that does not exist
  • they must have the ability to communicate it.

Leaders don’t have all the great ideas; they provide support for those who want to contribute. Leaders achieve very little by themselves; they inspire people to come together for the good of the group. Leaders never start with what needs to be done. Leaders start with WHY we need to do things. Leaders inspire action.