This article explains the golden circle, developed by Simon Sinek, in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful leadership tool.
Start with Why
Why are some organizations able to sell more products even though their competitors are equally good? Why are some leaders more influential than others?
Simon Sinek, an ex-advertising executive and author, studied the success of the world’s leading and influential leaders and he found that the key to success lies in the way these organization and leaders think, act and communicate.
The concept or thought model Simon Sinek developed is known as the Golden Circle.
The golden circle
According to Simon Sinek, most companies have no idea why customers choose their products. Successful companies, however, let their customer approach driven by three questions that make up the Golden circle:
- the WHY or the core question.
- the HOW
- the WHAT
Simon Sinek found that most companies work from the outside in, that is from the WHAT question. To understand the circle, you need to understand what it entails. The WHAT ring of the circle represents the products or services a company sells.
The HOW is an explanation of what the company does. In this ring of the circle, the company explains why their products/services are better or stand out from the competition.
The WHY is about what a company believes in, not about making a profit. Therefore, inspired and influential companies communicate from the inside out rather than outside in.
Appealing to the customer
Simon Sinek demonstrated his golden circle by using computer company Apple as an example.
Apple starts with the WHY, the centre of the circle. So instead of communicating what they do and make and how they do or make their products, they communicate their vision to their potential buyers.
They think differently thereby challenging the status quo. Then they proceed to the HOW question by informing their potential buyers that their eye-catching designs are easy to use. Finally, they arrive at the WHAT question: they make computers.
Simon Sinek argues that customers do not buy products because of what companies do but because of why they do it.
Influential companies do not structurally differ from the competition, however their customers think they do. They want the products of these companies because they are convinced that these companies are better than their competition, namely they provide an answer the question WHY.
The human brain
Simon Sinek compares the three circles of the golden circle to the human brain.
The WHAT, or outer circle is compared to the neocortex. Here is where we find rational thought and language. The HOW and WHY circles are comparted to the limbic brains. The limbic brains are responsible for feelings like trust and loyalty and for all human behaviour and decision-making. However, they do not have a capacity for language.
This is why influential companies start from the core question rather than the WHAT question. They target the decision-making part of the brain and they know that their potential customers will then rationalize their decisions.
But before these potential customers do this, the influential companies have already more or less reeled in their customers because they have established a connection. They have created a match between the actual reason and the underlying decision.
When companies target the neocortex or the WHAT question first, they are appealing to their potential customers’ rational approach.
It goes without saying that these potential customers are capable of analysing the message but that does not drive their behaviour and produce results. It is much harder to work towards emotions if you start from the ratio.
If a company wants to be successful, it should focus on the core question in the golden circle, the WHY. It should explain clearly and honestly why their products and services are the best a customer can get. Products and services that are based on the company’s true starting point.
Rather than being a competitor to other companies, a company should be its own competitor so that it can grow stronger and become one of the influential players in the market.
It’s Your Turn
What do you think? Do you recognize the practical explanation about the Golden circle or do you have more additions? What are your success factors for good leadership? How do you apply the golden circle in your daily business?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Sinek, S. (2014). Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. Portfolio Hardcover.
- Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. Penguin.
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