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Start with Why Summary: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

There are two kinds of people: Those who want to inspire others and those who want to be inspired. Very rarely does a book cater to both. 

Simon Sinek’s 2009 bestseller, Start with Why, is the exception.

Simon Sinek is a bestselling author and celebrated motivational speaker, known for his unconventionally optimistic ideas about business and leadership. As one of the most popular leadership coaches in the world, he has inspired thousands of business leaders in a career spanning over two decades. 

This book originated from Sinek’s viral TED Talk of the same name, which is now the third most-watched TED Talk of all time with over 60 million views. It carries a simple yet profound message and persuades us to discover our ‘Why’—the core value that drives us to get up in the morning and go to work.

If you want to work on your leadership and team management or improve team productivity, then Start with Why can help. 

This Start with Why summary lists its key takeaways for you.

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Start with Why Summary at a Glance

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
via Amazon

In Start with Why, Sinek talks about the power of ‘why’ and how it can be the key differentiator in an individual’s or organization’s success. Using the examples of Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King Jr., the Wright brothers, Bill Gates, etc., Sinek stresses the importance of discovering your core purpose (the why factor) and using it to motivate and inspire your team.

According to him, ‘starting with why’ creates a sense of shared purpose within your team. The clarity of the mission and vision of an organization makes it more relatable to employees and customers.

Here’s Sinek’s own ‘WHY’ for writing the book, in his own words:

The goal of this book is not simply to try to fix the things that aren’t working. Rather, I wrote this book as a guide to focus on and amplify the things that do work. I do not aim to upset the solutions offered by others. Most of the answers we get when based on sound evidence, are perfectly valid. However, if we’re starting with the wrong questions, if we don’t understand the cause, then even the right answers will always steer us wrong … eventually. The truth, you see, is always revealed… eventually.

This book will show you how to ask yourself the right questions so that you can steer your organization (and team) in the right direction. 

The book covers three great ideas:

  • what separates successful people and companies from unsuccessful ones
  • why inspiration is a better way to build your company than manipulation
  • how to build trust in an organization
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5 Key Takeaways from Start with Why 

There’s a lot you can learn from the book, but here are some of our favorite lessons.

1. Pick carrots over sticks

A key lesson for leaders throughout the book is to always influence someone to take action by inspiring them rather than manipulating them. 

According to Sinek, very few people understand why their customers choose them. Most companies tend to assume that people buy their products because of better price or better service quality. So, they use manipulative actions like lowering prices, running promotions, celebrity endorsements, and, in the worst cases, even fear, to attract customers. 

He shares real-world examples to drive this home.

When General Motors (GM) started offering a cashback of $500 to $7000 USD to customers purchasing their trucks and cars, their short-term sales increased but it cut into their long term profitability. 

By 2007, GM was losing around $729 per vehicle sold due to their incentives. They then had to reduce their incentives—and sales dropped.

Similarly, IBM’s tagline—No one ever got fired for hiring IBM—propagates fear as a marketing tactic. It makes procurement teams shy away from picking a lesser-known company over IBM because they fear losing their job, in case things go sideways. 

While Sinek agrees that manipulation works—sometimes all too well—he urges his readers to go in a completely opposite direction, which is the path of inspiration.

Here’s why: while manipulation can bring more or even repetitive business in some cases, only inspiration is the appropriate strategy to build true customer loyalty.

Sinek’s favorite example of inspiration done right is Apple, particularly when Steve Jobs was at the helm. 

A core point that Sinek stresses here is that people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. If your ‘why’ can inspire them, you can turn them into loyal customers—think people queueing up outside an Apple store the night before the new iPhone launches! 

Sinek doesn’t just leave you with this thought; he also drops some great advice:

  • Define (and communicate) your primary goal
  • Use stories to share that purpose with the world. All great leaders are also great storytellers
  • Reinforce commitment by creating a sense of unity and belonging
  • Create trust by demonstrating authenticity and leading with empathy

2. Find your Golden Circle

The concept of the Golden Circle is something Sinek discusses in multiple chapters of the book. The Golden Circle is a strategic framework with three concentric circles (Why, How, and What), each representing a different level of thinking and communication.

  • Why: The innermost circle represents the core purpose that inspires an organization’s existence. It answers the question, “Why does the organization exist beyond just making a profit?”—the deeper values and beliefs that drive actions
  • How: The middle circle represents the specific processes and work styles that support the organization’s ‘Why.’ It addresses the question, “How does the organization fulfill its purpose?”
  • What: The outermost circle represents the tangible things and outcomes that an organization produces. The answer to this question could be a product, service, or solution. It answers the basic question, “What does the organization do?”

According to the Golden Circle concept, successful companies and influential leaders start with the inner circle, the Why, and then move outward to the How, and finally, the What. 

This framework helps you prioritize what’s important and ensure you’re aligned with your goal. 

2. Leading is not the same as being the leader

Sinek also offers advice on good leadership. He says that leadership goes beyond managing work or handling operations. 

According to him, a great leader creates a following with the capability to build trust, empathy, and a sense of belonging. 

“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.”

And here’s how you can be such a leader:

  • Embody the values and beliefs that define your core purpose. This tells people that you’re authentic and trustworthy
  • Prioritize the well-being of your team members by creating a supportive and inclusive work environment
  • Create an environment where everyone feels comfortable asking questions and providing constructive feedback

An example of an inspiring leader mentioned in the book includes Steve Jobs, who gave employees at Apple the freedom to think differently (their core purpose), challenge the status quo, and come up with products like iPods and iPhones. 

3. Build a team that believes in your Why 

Let’s start with the basics of building a team and return to the Golden Circle: if you embody the Why in your company, then you need someone to manage the How and more skilled people to manage the What. At the same time, all these people should believe in your core purpose and values.

The author says it’s more important to hire people who embody your values, fit your company culture, and complement the rest of your team than someone who is the ‘best’ at what they do. 

Motivated people better align on a shared purpose. They make it easy to move towards your goal and reduce points of conflict. 

Some examples of great Why and How partnerships are the visionary Walt Disney and his practical older brother Roy. Here’s Sinek describing how this balance between WHY-HOW benefits an organization:

“Walt Disney dreamed, drew, and imagined; Roy stayed in the shadow, forming an empire,” wrote Bob Thomas, a Disney biographer. “A brilliant financier and businessman, Roy helped turn Walt Disney’s dreams into reality, building the company that bears his brother’s name.”

Sinek’s other advice to leaders? Empower your team. You could do this by helping them grow professionally, giving them autonomy in work, or appreciating their contributions. 

This helps build their trust in your organization and ensures that employees stay motivated

4. Follow your WHY, not your competition

A vast majority of organizations lose their originality and purpose over time as they try to follow in the footsteps of their more successful rivals. Sinek advises organizations to use their core purpose as their north star in all aspects. While analyzing and mimicking a competitor might benefit you in the short term, it’s not a holistic approach as it can cause inconsistency and divert you from your actual goals. 

While competitors can provide good insight into the market, using them as your benchmark can stifle your growth for the following reasons:

  • No authenticity: By following a competitor’s path, you stop being true to your values. This, in turn, will make you inauthentic in the eyes of both employees and customers
  • No innovation: If you always mimic what your competitors are doing, there’s no scope for innovation or novel approaches
  • No competitive advantage: When you do everything your competitors do exactly the way they do it, you become similar to them and will not be able to stand out
  • Always playing catch-up: You’ll always be one step behind your competitors, which means you’ll never get a chance to be the market leader

Sinek encourages leaders to look inward, understand their organization’s purpose, values, and strengths, and lead with authenticity rather than relying solely on external benchmarks. As he puts it, you are your competition. 

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Start with Why Quotes to Inspire You into Action

Looking for more inspiration? 

Here are some direct quotes from the book to motivate you, enhance your leadership skills, and help you build successful organizations. 

Simon Sinek on leadership

“Being the leader means you hold the highest rank, either by earning, good fortune or navigating internal politics. Leading, however, means that others willingly follow you—not because they have to, not because they are paid to, but because they want to.”

“Great leaders are those who trust their gut. They are those who understand the art before the science. They win hearts before minds. They are the ones who start with WHY.”

Simon Sinek on team management

“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”

“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”

Simon Sinek on effective work practices

“Passion alone can’t cut it. For passion to survive it needs structure. A why without how has little probability of success.”

“Instead of asking, “WHAT should we do to compete?” the questions must be asked, “WHY did we start doing WHAT we’re doing in the first place, and WHAT can we do to bring our cause to life considering all the technologies and market opportunities available today?”

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Applying Start with Why Principles with ClickUp

Now that you know the key concepts and principles in Sinek’s book, let’s show you how workspace management software tools like ClickUp can help you start with your Why:

1. Align your goals with your ‘why’

Break down larger goals into actionable tasks and ensure that each task is linked to the organization’s core purpose. This helps team members understand the significance of their contributions. It also shows them the importance of their work which, in turn, motivates them.

Create goals and KPIs to measure your progress against your core values to ensure you move towards them and not away. This is especially important as your business grows and more stakeholders emerge.

Manage projects and track goals with ClickUp

ClickUp Task View Dashboard
Manage all your projects and tasks from one place with ClickUp’s project management software

You can use ClickUp Tasks to manage tasks and sub-tasks, post status updates (as comments), use custom tags or statuses to group and prioritize tasks and explicitly link them to the organization’s Why.

ClickUp Tasks
Create goals, assign targets, and share them with your team so everyone is aligned

Once you’ve added your projects, you can use custom dashboards and other reports like Gantt charts to measure your progress against these goals. ClickUp Goals also lets you track your goals with numerical, yes/no, or monetary targets. 

2. Communicate your Why 

Create a centralized repository or wiki for information related to the organization’s ‘why’ and ‘how’, including mission and vision statements, values, and processes. This ensures easy access for all team members and is especially useful while onboarding new employees.

Create public wikis with ClickUp Docs

ClickUp Docs
Create in-depth wikis and educate your team about your values and purpose with ClickUp Docs

ClickUp Docs is a docs tool that allows teams to manage their docs and wikis in organized workspaces. It includes features like content blocks, formatting options, and real-time editing. You can also create a team space to manage common documents, assign permission levels, and more.

ClickUp AI
Use ClickUp AI to summarize your wikis or translate them into different languages so they’re easy to read

Plus, ClickUp AI can help you localize your wikis in multiple languages, summarize documents, and a lot more. This way, you create a sense of belonging for even those who don’t necessarily speak your language. 

3. Foster real-time collaboration 

To keep all team members aligned on a project, help them communicate easily, and stay updated through all levels of the project. This way, everyone can stay on the same page and provide feedback easily. 

Keep everyone in the loop with ClickUp’s communication tools

ClickUp provides multiple options to communicate with your team—in projects and docs. For the first, you can comment on tasks, assign action items, and email people directly from the task view.

ClickUp communication tools
Edit documents simultaneously with the rest of your team, add comments, and more

In Docs, you can add comments, tag people, and edit simultaneously to initiate constant feedback loops.

ClickUp Chats
Start conversations with key stakeholders by creating separate chats for each project, task, or doc

Apart from this, you can also use ClickUp’s built-in chat and video recording features to start conversations with your team and add context to discussions. 

4. Encourage brainstorming

Organize brainstorming sessions where team members can share ideas openly. Sinek recommends creating an environment where individuals can build on each other’s ideas, leading to collaborative innovation. This amplifies the sense of belonging and unity amongst your employees.

Brainstorming templates in ClickUp make this easier—you could even start a session instantaneously. 

Visualize ideas with whiteboards and mindmaps in ClickUp

Freestyle design tools like whiteboards and mindmaps make it easier for your teammates to draw all the great ideas and explain them visually. This makes brainstorming sessions engaging and productive.

ClickUp Whiteboard
Make brainstorming sessions engaging with ClickUp Whiteboards

With ClickUp Whiteboards, you can draw diagrams, add notes, and even link them to a project. You can also share these whiteboards with others on the team or use them as a record of your brainstorming session. This is especially useful during Why tasks that require you to explain the strategic purpose of a project to your team.

Another engaging and collaborative tool available on ClickUp is Mind Maps. It can be helpful during the How and What stages, where you’ve to map out your workflow or create individual tasks for everyone.

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Wrapping up

Simon Sinek’s Start with Why is a compelling blueprint for building inspiring organizations. 

By finding and defining your core purpose, you can inspire trust amongst teammates, build billion-dollar businesses, and make evangelists out of loyal customers. Sinek also urges leaders to foster clarity and discipline in team goals by always aligning them with their ‘why.’ 

We hope you found this Start with Why book summary useful. If you’re not sure what your ‘why’ is, we highly recommend Sinek’s other book, Finding Your Why. This book is a companion to the book Start with Why and comes with practical tips to help you define your greater purpose. 

But if you’ve already internalized the concepts of Start with Why and have a strong idea of what your core purpose is, we suggest you sign up for ClickUp—it’s free to get started. 

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