How great leaders inspire action – the golden circle

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circles denoting questions to ask - why, how, what

How great leaders inspire action – the golden circle

Apr 26, 2019

A TED talk, given by Simon Sinek, describes how it is that great leaders inspire action, and why some people are able to achieve things when others are not. He explains the brilliant, biologically-based “Golden Circle”, a new way of looking at how people approach what they do. He also discusses the Law of Diffusion of Innovation, and weaves it all together with several brilliantly told examples, from Apple computer to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here is the video, with my highest recommendations (it’ll change the way you look at what you do). Beneath that, the “rough” written transcript.

How do you explain why some people are able to achieve things that seem impossible?

How is it that some companies, like Apple, year after year, always seem to lead innovation? Why is it that Martin Luther King led the civil rights movement? Why is it that the Wright Brothers were the ones that discovered controlled, powered man flight when others were more qualified and better funded? They inspired action.

A few years ago I discovered something that changed my life, a pattern that I found in all the great leaders (individuals and companies). They all think in the same way, and it’s the opposite of everybody else.

It’s probably the world’s simplest idea (all I did was codify it). I call it the “Golden Circle”.

Why – in the centre, surrounded by “How”, surrounded by a larger circle, “What”.

It explains why some leaders are able to inspire action where others aren’t.

Everybody knows “what” they do 100%. Some know how they do it. But very very few people or organisations know WHY they do it.

And I don’t mean to make a profit, that’s the result. It’s the “why”, why do you do it, why do you get out of bed in the morning, and why should people care.

Inspired organisations and people all think, act, and communicate from the inside out.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. That inspires action.

The Why, How, What model is actually grounded in biology (not psychology).

If you were to look at a cross-section of the brain from the top down, you’d see that it corresponds perfectly to the golden circle.

  1. Starting at the top, our “newest” (evolutionary) brain, our Homo-Sapiens Brain, called our Neocortex – it’s our what, and it’s responsible for all our rational, analytical thought, and language.
  2. The middle two sections make up our Limbic brains, which is for feelings, trust, and loyalty, it’s also responsible for all human behaviour and decision-making. 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, 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 rationalize it with the tangible things we say and do.This is where gut decisions come from. It’s why you can give someone all the facts and figures and they’ll say that they know what all the facts and the details say, but it just doesn’t ‘feel’ right.

Why would they use that verb?

Because the part of the brain that controls decision-making doesn’t control language.

Sometimes we say we’re leading with our heart or our soul. That’s all happening in your limbic brain.

But if you don’t know why you do what you do, then how will you ever get someone to buy into it, and be loyal, or want to be a part of what it is that you do. After all, the goal is not just to get people to buy that need what you have, but to believe what you believe. The goal is not just to hire people who need a job, but who believe what you believe. If you hire people who just need a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people that believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.

There’s no better example than the Wright Brothers.

Nobody knows, anymore, who Samuel Pierpont Langley is.

When you ask why people fail, they always give you some permutation of the same three things.

  1. Under-capitalised
  2. The wrong people
  3. Unfavourable market conditions

Langley was given $50K by the War Department to figure out this flying machine. Held a seat at Harvard and worked at Smithsonian. He was extremely well-connected. He had access to the greatest funds and the greatest minds. He hired the greatest minds available, and the market conditions were fantastic. The NY Times followed him everywhere, everyone was rooting for him. But we’ve never heard of Samuel Pierpont Langley.

A few hundred miles away in Dayton Ohio, Orville and Wilber Wright, had none of this “recipe for success”. They paid for it all from the proceeds of their humble bicycle shop. Not a single person on the Wright Brothers team had a college education. Not even Orville or Wilber. And the NY Times ignored them. But they were driven by a cause, by a purpose, by a belief. They believed that if they could figure out this flying machine, it would change the course of the world.

Samuel Pierpont Langley was different. He wanted to be rich, and he wanted to be famous. He was in pursuit of the result, of the riches. In the end, the people who believed in the dream worked with blood and sweat and tears, the others, just for the paycheck. Every time the Wright brothers would go out, they would have to take 5 sets of parts because that’s how many times they would crash before they came home for supper. Eventually, on Dec 17th of 1903, they took flight. And no one was there to even experience it. We found out later.

To prove that Langley wasn’t in it for the right thing, the day he found out that they had beaten him to it, he quit. He could have said, “that’s an amazing discovery, and I will improve upon it”. But he wasn’t first, he didn’t get rich, he didn’t get famous, and so he quit. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. If you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe. That’s how a leader can inspire action.

Microsoft sells the “what”, and sometimes the “how”, but Apple sells the “why”.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it, and what you do is simply the proof, of what you believe.

In the summer of 1963, 250,000 people showed up to hear Dr. King speak. There were no invitations, there was no website to check the date. He wasn’t the only great orator, he wasn’t the only person to have these ideas, and some of his ideas were even bad. But what he did, was to go around and simply talk about what he believed. “I believe…” And people who believed what he believed took his cause and told more people. To the point where 250k showed up on the right day to hear him speak.

How many people showed up for him? None. They showed up for themselves. it’s what they believed about America that got them to drive 8 hours on a bus to stand in the sun to Washington DC in the middle of August. it’s what they believed. It wasn’t black vs. white. 25% audience was white.

He believed that there were two kinds of laws in this world, those that are made by a higher power, and those that are made by man. And it’s not until those that are made by man are consistent with the laws that are made by the higher power that we will live in a just world. It just so happened that the civil rights movement was the perfect thing to help him bring his cause to life. He gave the “I Have a Dream” speech, not the “I have a plan” speech.

Listen to politicians now with their 12-point plans, they’re not inspiring anybody! There are leaders, and there are those who lead. Leaders are those who hold a position of power or authority. But those who lead are those who inspire us. Whether within organisations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. Not for them, but for ourselves.

And it’s those who start with “why”, who have the ability to inspire action from those around them or find others to inspire them.

This article was published by Aditya Ruia, || CEO and Founder of Quorg, a messaging app for business communication, simply said, a Whatsapp for Professionals. Email: