Starting with Why - How Livingston County Got it Right

Kevin Watson - Director of Business Development ·

"All great and inspiring leaders of the world think, act and communicate in the exact same way, and it's the complete opposite as everyone else."

This is the premise of Simon Sinek's classic TEDx talk "How Great Leaders Inspire Action." During Sinek's TEDx talk, he delves into the biology of human decision-making, and explains why we are inspired by some people, leaders, messages and organizations over others.

Sinek references "The Golden Circle" (shown), and talks about the fact that most organizations/people usually communicate from the outside in.

Organizations/people typically start with WHAT they do (the products they sell or the services they offer) ... which is the most concrete. From there, they typically move on to the HOW (these are the things that make them special or set them apart from the competition). Very few organizations/people however, focus on WHY they do what they do ... which is the most fuzzy (WHY does not mean to make a profit, that's just a result. WHY means: What's your purpose, what's your cause, what's your belief, why does your organization exist?).

Based on Sinek's research, all great leaders and inspired organizations think, act, communicate from the inside out, starting with the WHY, and then move on to the HOW and the WHAT.

Sinek makes the argument that people don't buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it. WHAT you do simply serves as proof of what you believe.

To support his case, Sinek talks about the fact that this is rooted in biology ... not psychology, but biology.

Our brain is organized like the golden circle:

  • The neocortex corresponds with the WHAT level, and is responsible for our rational and analytical thought and language
  • The HOW and WHY levels make up our limbic brains. The limbic brains are responsible for our feelings like trust, loyalty, human behavior, and decision-making and have no capacity for language
  • So if we communicate from the outside in, most people can understand vast amounts of complicated information like features, facts and benefits - it just doesn't drive behavior
  • "I know what all the facts and details are, but it just doesn't feel right"
  • When we communicate from the inside out, we are talking directly to the part of the brain that controls behavior and we allow people to rationalize it with the tangible things we say and do

I had the pleasure of attending the 24th Annual Livingston County Workforce Development Council Awards Ceremony a few weeks ago, at Cleary University's Johnson Center. This event was a shining example of “starting with why.” Rather than sitting around and listening to local workforce development and civic leaders drone on about what they do, and how they accomplish this great work, the event did a great job of showcasing “why” the workforce development system exists. We had the opportunity to meet several job seekers who have overcome significant barriers to employment. We learned about their struggles, we were taught lessons in perseverance, and we learned about what becoming gainfully employed meant to them and their families. We also had the chance to hear from some local employers, and to learn more about why they see value in their local workforce development partners.

We walked away inspired, and with a better sense for why the workforce development system exists, and continues to play an integral role in helping to create healthier, thriving communities.

Click here if you are interested in watching the full video (18 minutes in length) of Simon Sinek’s talk.