In each episode of the Arete Coach Podcast, we ask our guests a question inspired by Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why, “Do you have a ‘why’ that gives you purpose, cause, or a belief that drives you and gives you energy?” In this insight article, we dive into what having a “why” means and how you can find your “why” to better your business, inspire others, and bring new passion to your coaching, business, or career.
“It’s those who start with why, that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others who inspire them.” - Simon Sinek
What does it mean to have a “why”?
In Simon Sinek’s TedTalk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” Simon explains that there are three parts to any leader or company: why, how, what. Simon calls this “the golden circle.” He states that “Every single person, every single organization on the planet, knows what they do... Some know how they do it... But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by ‘why’ I don't mean ‘to make a profit.’” So what exactly is a “why” if it isn’t “to make a profit”? According to Sinek, the “why” is having a “purpose...cause...belief.” It’s knowing “why” your organization exists. Your “why” is the reason “you get out of bed in the morning” and why others should care about what you are doing. Your why is your passion—the underlying reason for your actions (Sinek, 2009).
“All organizations start with why, but only the great one keep their why clear year after year.” - Simon Sinek
The importance of finding your “why”
Simon Sinek claims that all successful leaders function from the inside-out of the golden circle. Their “why” is their motivating and centrifugal force, it pushes businesses and leaders to the “how” and the “what.”
Your “why” brings others into your mission and inspires them to take action with you as employees, clients, business partners, and even customers. Your “why” is essential to success, before money and market conditions. It pushes you to success and pulls others towards your product, company, goal, or leadership (Sinek, 2009). Without a “why,” you march into “what” your goal is and “how” you will achieve it, without any resilience to change, challenges, or setbacks.
Sinek shares a story of the Wright Brothers and Samuel Pierpont Langley and their race to fly. Langley was well funded, well educated, and well connected—all of which make the perfect condition for the discovery of flight. At the same time, the Wright Brothers, had relatively no money, few connections, and no college degrees yet were also attempting to fly. What the Wright Brothers had ahead of Langley, was their “why.” They invented the machine that could allow people to fly because they believed “it'll change the course of the world.” Langley, on the other hand, had no “why” and was simply seeking wealth. Soon, the Wright Brothers were the first to fly and as a result, Langley quit that very same day. The Wright Brothers went down in history, and Langley was left in the dust, all because he didn’t have a “why” (Sinek, 2009).
Research supports this need for a “why” or a passion when starting or running a business. In a research study of “small and medium-sized towns” in Italy, researchers found that entrepreneurial passion was “key” to turning an idea into a business. They stated that entrepreneurial and domain passion are “key resources in transforming the initial idea into a real entrepreneurial venture in resource-scarce settings…” They also found that passion shared by business leaders was sometimes “shared” by others which fostered “the involvement of local actors.” This involvement by others supported the business’ ability “to overcome relevant hurdles in the entrepreneurial process.” They claim that their research “emphasizes the role of passion as a key resource for networking and marketing” (Pagano et al., 2020).
“Start with why. And work really hard to make sure you’re consistent.” - Simon Sinek
What your “why” is matters
Having a “why” influences success, encourages support from others, and gives you a north star for navigating the journey of business leadership. But it’s not just what your “why” is that matters, it’s what it means.
Having the wrong “why”
If you have the wrong “why,” your passion and motivation are misaligned with your business. For example, if your passion and motivation (in other words, your “why”) is helping others live healthier lifestyles but your business sells desserts or advertising technology, your business is not aligned with your “why.” Using this example, employees and executives might know “what” they make and “how” they make it, but the “why” of the business will remain unknown. Kevin Cashman, Korn Ferry’s Global Leader of CEO and Executive Development, states that “Without embracing the purpose of an organization—the motivating force of why it is so important that we exist—employees will become disenchanted” (Zabkowicz et al., 2020). Having the wrong “why” can cause employees to feel “disenchanted” with their careers, result in poor decision making due to lack of purpose, and affect how values and priorities are explained to customers. The wrong “why” brings the wrong guidance and goals.
Having the right “why”
If you have the right “why,” you have a reason to get out of bed and push your business to success in a way that excites you personally. For example, if the “why” you have chosen for yourself and your business is to make cooking delicious food more accessible to the average person, your business should support cooking and communicate a passion for teaching others how to cook as well. The right “why” helps you accomplish your goals. It also invites others to join your mission. If you have the right “why,” you will attract the right customers, employees, and business partners. The right “why” can serve as a driving force for your business.
“Happiness comes from what we do. Fulfillment comes from why we do it.” - Simon Sinek
Questions to find your “why”
Knowing the “why” behind your business is an essential component for success. But how do you find this “why”? In Simon Sinek’s Book, Find Your Why, finding your “why” is like finding your “origin story.” Simon Sinek explains that your “why” comes from your “past” and can be retrieved by examining past “significant moments” to discover when and where you are at “your natural best.” Finding this “why” requires self-reflection, intentional thought, and difficult questions. For this reason, we pose the following questions for you to ponder, examine, and reflect on.
What inspires me and gives me energy?
Describe a past experience where you were at your best?
What change do I want to make in the lives of those around me?
What drains my energy?
What makes me excited?
What do I find purpose and value in?
The main takeaway
Your “why” is the driving force behind your business. Without it, employees and executives can know “what” they are doing and “how” they are doing it, but fail to understand the purpose, value, and meaning of their work. Having the right “why” can inspire employees, executives, and customers alike to engage, invest, and contribute.
In order to find your “why,” you must understand what gives you energy and passion, and reflect on the significant moments of your past. Finding your best moments, identifying your passion, and defining your purpose, are essential to finding your “why.” Once your “why” is defined, you can then begin to evaluate how this affects your “what” and your “how.” Using this strategy can better your business, inspire others, and bring new passion to your coaching, business, or career.
“To inspire starts with the clarity of why.” - Simon Sinek
Pagano, A., Petrucci, F. and Bocconcelli, R. (2021), "Passion-driven entrepreneurship in small and medium-sized towns: empirical evidence from Italy", Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, Vol. 36 No. 13, pp. 210-219. https://doi.org/10.1108/JBIM-05-2019-0259.
Sinek, S. (2009). How great leaders inspire action. TED. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action?language=en.
Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why. Simon Sinek. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from https://simonsinek.com/product/start-with-why/.
Sinek, S. (2017). Find your why. Portfolio/Penguin, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.
Zabkowicz, J., Remick, T., Cashman, K., & Lowman, D. (2020). The top hiring trends for the New Year. Korn Ferry. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from https://www.kornferry.com/insights/this-week-in-leadership/the-top-hiring-trends-for-the-new-year?utm_campaign=01-07-21-twil&utm_source=marketo&utm_medium=email.
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