Opin­ions expressed by Entre­pre­neur con­trib­u­tors are their own.


Ask­ing our­selves “why” is gen­er­al­ly a reac­tionary response after we have done some­thing. Why did I do that? Or, why do I con­tin­ue to do some­thing?

In the busi­ness world, “why” can­not be an after­thought. It must be your fore­thoughts fore­thought. Prop­er­ly and suc­cess­ful­ly defin­ing your “why” is an impor­tant ele­ment when defin­ing your busi­ness.

Through our work, we have real­ized that defin­ing our “why” is an absolute must, and for that rea­son, we reached out to the cham­pi­on of this con­cept, Simon Sinek, to ask about the impor­tance of teams, build­ing cus­tomer loy­al­ty, attract­ing new cus­tomers and why he believes the con­cept is so impor­tant to share with the world.

Described as “a vision­ary thinker with a rare intel­lect,” unshak­able opti­mist Simon Sinek teach­es lead­ers and orga­ni­za­tions how to inspire peo­ple. With a bold goal to help build a world in which the vast major­i­ty of peo­ple go home every day feel­ing ful­filled by their work, Sinek is lead­ing a move­ment to inspire peo­ple to do the things that inspire them.

He is the author of three best-sell­ing books — the glob­al best sell­er, Start With Why: How Great Lead­ers Inspire Every­one to Take Action; New York Times and Wall Street Jour­nal best­seller, Lead­ers Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Togeth­er and Oth­ers Don’t; and his lat­est book, just launched Sep­tem­ber 2016, is the New York Times best-sell­er, Togeth­er is Bet­ter: A Lit­tle Book of Inspi­ra­tion.

Sinek is also known for pop­u­lar­iz­ing the con­cept of “why” in his first Ted Talk in 2009. It has since risen to the third most watched talk of all time on TED.com, gath­er­ing 27+million views and is sub­ti­tled in 43 lan­guages. Get to know Sinek­bet­ter by read­ing his full bio.

Below Sinek responds to inter­view ques­tions that you can learn from, get inspired by, and imple­ment to build your com­pa­ny to new heights.

Ques­tion: For those solo-entre­pre­neurs grow­ing their busi­ness and now sur­round­ing them­selves with a team, what three pieces of lead­er­ship advice would you give them?

Sinek: 1. You can’t do it alone. So don’t pre­tend you can. Life changes for the bet­ter when we real­ize that we don’t have to know every­thing, and we don’t have to pre­tend we do. This is the rea­son for teams. It’s not sim­ply about capac­i­ty; it’s about our diver­si­ty — diver­si­ty of ideas and diver­si­ty of strengths. As indi­vid­u­als, we are just ok. But, togeth­er we are remark­able. When we work togeth­er, we can accom­plish any­thing. 

Relat­ed: Why Team­work Mat­ters At Every Lev­el

We spend so much time and ener­gy lying, fak­ing and hid­ing — pre­tend­ing we know more than we do and pre­tend­ing we know what we’re doing. When we admit our short­com­ings, it’s amaz­ing how many peo­ple will offer to help. Admit­ting our short­com­ings, our mis­takes, when we are stressed or need help — it’s called vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, and it paves the way for peo­ple to show up for us in ways we can’t even imag­ine.

2. Give peo­ple a rea­son to come to work, not just a place to go to work. In Amer­i­ca and all over the world today, the vast major­i­ty of us can­not say, “I love my job.” If we go out for din­ner with friends and one per­son shares they love their job, most often our response is, “you’re so lucky.” Why should it be like win­ning the lot­tery to find ful­fill­ment, mean­ing and deep sat­is­fac­tion in our work? Why is it only the lucky few who get to feel that way? It’s not right! 

When we pro­vide peo­ple with a rea­son to come to work that they care about, they will give us their blood, sweat and tears. They will give us their dis­cre­tionary effort and their pas­sion and their best work, not because they have to, but because they want to. When we give peo­ple a rea­son to come to work, peo­ple will come togeth­er and put their egos aside to find ways to bring our shared vision to life. When we give peo­ple a rea­son to come to work, they will love their job.

3. We must all try to empathize before we crit­i­cize. Ask some­one what’s wrong before telling them they are wrong. My dear friend and men­tor, Lt. Gen. George Fly­nn, USMC (Ret.) has a sim­ple test to judge the qual­i­ty of a leader. If they ask some­one how they are doing, they gen­uine­ly care about the answer. The lead­ers, who help their peo­ple work at their nat­ur­al best, are the lead­ers who care most about their peo­ple. Let us care and empathize before we crit­i­cize. The pos­i­tive impact is pro­found — both in how some­one feels about their job and the per­for­mance.

Ques­tion: In run­ning my com­pa­ny, Evolvor.com, I must have watched your “Start with Why — How Great Lead­ers Inspire Action” Ted Talk over a dozen times (and to the read­ers who haven’t seen it, click here and watch it). Why is inspir­ing and con­nect­ing emo­tion­al­ly with your cus­tomers / prospects so impor­tant?

Sinek: Thank you for shar­ing my mes­sage to inspire oth­ers! If we want to dri­ve trans­ac­tions, we make a pitch. If we intend to build loy­al­ty, we make a friend.

Con­nect­ing on an emo­tion­al lev­el with our cus­tomers and prospects is what breeds loy­al­ty. There is a dis­tinct dif­fer­ence between repeat busi­ness and loy­al­ty. Repeat busi­ness means that some­one will con­tin­ue to come back to you and buy from you for some rea­son that moti­vates or con­ve­niences them. It could be price, loca­tion, selec­tion. But as soon as some­one else does the same thing you do a lit­tle bet­ter, cus­tomers jump ship. 

Loy­al­ty is far dif­fer­ent. Loy­al­ty is not a pro­gram; loy­al­ty is a feel­ing. Loy­al­ty means that we are will­ing to suf­fer incon­ve­nience to con­tin­ue to choose to do busi­ness with you. We will pay more, trav­el fur­ther and give you the ben­e­fit of the doubt. Loy­al­ty is not ratio­nal. Loy­al­ty is emo­tion­al. It’s more than a moti­va­tion — it’s inspi­ra­tion. We are loy­al to the brands, orga­ni­za­tions, and peo­ple with whom we con­nect with on an emo­tion­al lev­el. 

I was once in line wait­ing to board a South­west Air­lines flight and the per­son in front of me turned around and said to me, unso­licit­ed I might add, “I love South­west.” After 9/11 hap­pened, the air­line busi­ness took a real hit. And get this, there were peo­ple who sent $1,000 checks to South­west with let­ters that read, “You’ve been there for me and cared for me dur­ing the tough times. I want to be there for you in the tough times.” Who does that? The only thing I can call that is love. How does some­thing like that hap­pen? South­west treats their own peo­ple with great care. When employ­ees feel cared for they are all the more like­ly to extend that care to oth­ers — team­mates and cus­tomers includ­ed. Indeed, no cus­tomer will ever love a com­pa­ny until the employ­ees love it first. 

Relat­ed: 7 Signs Your Employ­ees Are Unhap­py And What to Do About It

Ques­tion: Con­tin­u­ing from the pre­vi­ous ques­tion, what tips do you have for entre­pre­neurs want­i­ng to imple­ment a “Start with Why” mindset/approach to help attract new cus­tomers?

Sinek: Focus first on bring­ing your “why” to life from the inside-out of your com­pa­ny. Too many orga­ni­za­tions exclaim cus­tomer first! That sends an inad­ver­tent or a direct mes­sage to your peo­ple that they are, at best, your sec­ond pri­or­i­ty. How does that make them feel? They are the ones com­ing to work every day, spend­ing more time there than with their fam­i­lies. It is their blood, sweat and tears we ask for.

Yes, we need cus­tomers to keep the lights on and the engine mov­ing, but who are the ones that actu­al­ly ser­vice those cus­tomers? Your employ­ees. Treat them as your top pri­or­i­ty, and they will treat your cur­rent and poten­tial cus­tomers as their pri­or­i­ty — sec­ond only to your team’s com­mit­ment, first and fore­most, to each oth­er. It seems counter-intu­itive, but it makes per­fect sense. Take care of the peo­ple who take care of the cus­tomers. The best cus­tomer ser­vice com­pa­nies in the world — Zap­pos, South­west Air­lines, and Con­tain­er Store — all put their peo­ple first.

Ques­tion: Through their devel­op­ment, many com­pa­nies often piv­ot strate­gies. It can be because they have dis­cov­ered a dif­fer­ent need from con­sumers that they can help fill, or they’ve learned more about them­selves as their busi­ness grows. Is there a cer­tain time a com­pa­ny should revis­it their “why,” and if so, how often should it be reviewed?

Sinek: A “why” is not some­thing we change when it suits us. It is not some­thing we adapt from time to time. We can piv­ot prod­uct offer­ings. We can piv­ot mar­ket­ing approach. We can piv­ot a busi­ness strat­e­gy. It is the “why” that pro­vides solid­i­ty and con­ti­nu­ity. It is like the foun­da­tion of a house. Ren­o­vate the house as you see fit — but the foun­da­tion remains fixed.

The “why” of a com­pa­ny is like the char­ac­ter of a per­son. It is who you are. It is how you show up. We don’t change who we are sim­ply to get new friends now and then — and if any­one says that we do that, I would argue that in one of those sce­nar­ios, we aren’t tru­ly being our­selves. In oth­er words, by pre­tend­ing to be what we are not to attract dif­fer­ent friends is stress­ful, it doesn’t last, and by being some­thing we are not — we nev­er tru­ly devel­op the depth of friend­ship we can as when we are tru­ly who we are. A company’s “why” is exact­ly the same thing.

If the “why” is artic­u­lat­ed in terms that include the prod­uct, ser­vice, indus­try or cus­tomer — it’s not a true “why.” Say­ing “to be the best,”  or “to offer the high­est qual­i­ty prod­uct at the best pos­si­ble price” or “excel­lence in all we do” — none of these are “whys.” They are goals or results at best. At worst, they are mean­ing­less, cor­po­rate pab­u­lum. Our company’s “why” is to inspire peo­ple to do what inspires them so togeth­er we can change our world for the bet­ter. We have infi­nite pos­si­bil­i­ties for the prod­ucts and ser­vices we can offer to advance that cause, and we are able to piv­ot our strat­e­gy and mar­ket­ing to stay cur­rent with the times. But who we are at our core has nev­er and will nev­er change. Ever.

Ques­tion: What inspires Simon Sinek? What dri­ves you to spread the “Start with Why” cause?

I am inspired by peo­ple who show up to serve oth­ers. Peo­ple will­ing to sac­ri­fice for anoth­er or a cause. This is why I’m drawn to peo­ple who vol­un­teer to wear a uni­form and say they are “in the ser­vice.” It is why I’m drawn to great teach­ers or great par­ents — the givers.

As for my cause, I want to be a part of chang­ing our world. I use busi­ness as a vehi­cle not because I care deeply about busi­ness. I don’t. What I do care about deeply is impact­ing peo­ple. Even dur­ing the depres­sion or reces­sion­ary times, most peo­ple still have a job. We spend more time at work than we do at home. We spend more time with our teams than we do our own fam­i­lies. If I am going to make an impact, if I am going to make a dif­fer­ence, I’m more like­ly to do so by work­ing with lead­ers in orga­ni­za­tions. Why vis­it some­one in their home if I can reach so many more peo­ple at work? The best part is, when we impact peo­ple at work, they bring it home. We can change people’s lives by giv­ing them a place they feel inspired to go to work at every day, feel safe when they’re there, and return home ful­filled at the end of the day.

Relat­ed: 25 Best Habits to Have in Life

I want to reverse the effects of the the­o­ries pop­u­lar­ized in the 1980s and 1990s that tout­ed share­hold­er suprema­cy, mass lay­offs to bal­ance the books and increase short-term prof­itabil­i­ty. I want to reverse the neg­a­tive effects we are now see­ing where employ­ees are pawns in the game. Every CEO today says that their peo­ple are their most impor­tant asset, but how many actu­al­ly put their peo­ple first?

I am inspired by a world where share­hold­ers, cor­po­rate boards, ana­lysts, employ­ees and cus­tomers demand that orga­ni­za­tions exist to advance some­thing big­ger than them­selves. Who val­ues the long-term growth of their peo­ple over the short-term growth of their prof­its? Mon­ey is impor­tant, but mon­ey is fuel, not a pur­pose. We don’t own cars so we can have fuel. We own cars to get places. Fuel pow­ers the car. Mon­ey pow­ers a busi­ness, helps it advance its mes­sage to big­ger and broad­er audi­ences. Busi­ness can change people’s lives and change the world — only when they know why they are in busi­ness in the first place.

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