Everyone knows what they do, but do they really know why they do it? Why did you choose one career over another? Why are you passionate about x, y or z? What is your purpose? What are your values?
Back in September 2016 I went to a 3-day legal practice management conference in Melbourne. One idea from the summit that really struck a chord with me was asking myself why I do what I do. I enjoy my career and I love being a mum. I know these things are true, but I couldn’t tell you why they were true for me. I wanted to uncover my ‘why’ and I started my quest with Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why (obvious choice, right!?).
Start With Why aims to encourage leaders and business owners and to understand and communicate their purpose over and above their ‘what’ and ‘how’. According to Sinek, why we do what we do is much more important than what we do or how we do it. Knowing our why gives us a clear foundation and purpose and enables us to filter our decisions. Sinek argues that the all the great and inspiring leaders of the world think, act and communicate in the same way. He named this idea ‘The Golden Circle’, which looks like this:
WHAT you do is your job title or function. Everyone knows what they do. HOW you do things that sets you apart from others. According to Sinek, only some people know how they do it. WHY is the key. Why is not about making money, it is about the cause, purpose or belief. Sinek says that few people know why they do what they do.
Sink argues that the best leaders communicate from the inside of the circle. They start with WHY.
Our why is about our contribution to impact and serve others. Our why is what inspires action. Our why tells others not just who we are, but what we are about, what we stand for, and what they can expect from us.
Sinek’s theory is even backed up by biology. Sinek explains this much better than I can in his book and in his TEDTalk, but it goes something like this. The outside of the brain (the neocortex) is responsible for our rational thoughts and language. It corresponds with the what level in the Golden Circle. The inside of the brain (the limbic brain) corresponds with the how and why of the Golden Circle. The limbic brain is responsible for our thoughts and feelings, but it also drives our decision making. Put another way: our decision making is driven by the part of the brain that controls our behaviour and emotions.
This is how Sinek arrives at his famous catchphrase: ‘People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.’ To drive decision making, we need to communicate from the inside-out. We need to start with why.
Start With Why is a must-read for any business owner, but it is applicable to a broader audience too. The book encouraged me to consider why on many different levels – not only did I ask myself why our company does what it does, but why do I enjoy working there so much? Why do I choose to spend my time championing the causes of the business? What was my personal ‘why’?
For me, my why was not just about what the business does, but about the people within it. Our aim (our why) is to help our team to reach their full potential in all areas of their lives. Our focus is not on what we can get out of our team, but on what we can help them to achieve. We aim to help our people to grow both professionally and personally: that is why I do what I do.
Do you know why you do what you do? Does your why align with your true passions and values? If it does, and you already wake up feeling inspired to go to work, make sure you are communicating your why. Make sure you are starting with why! If it does’t, perhaps it’s time to re-consider your career. Can you find a job that allows you to tune-in to your why and live-out Sinek’s utopia?