Leadership Lessons from the Book, “Start with Why”
leadership training employee

Leadership Lessons from the Book, "Start with Why"

Motivational speaker and bestselling author Simon Sinek is a self-described “unshakable optimist.”

Best known for his 2009 TED talk, “Start with Why,” he energized the business world and started a movement with the introduction of his Golden Circle theory – the idea that the one thing leaders and organizations must do to be successful is establish their why.

Sinek’s follow-up book, “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action,” breaks down the research behind his Golden Circle theory. His thesis? That people don’t buy what you do as an organization, they buy why you do it.

At Glassdoor, we believe in this same philosophy. We know that at the end of the day, it’s not just what your company does that attracts top talent, it’s why your company does it. A strong employer brand is critical to hiring informed candidates. In fact, companies that invest in employer branding are three times more likely to make a quality hire. (1)

There’s a lot that “Start with Why” can teach us about leadership and talent acquisition. Here are three top takeaways:

1. Train employees to be good managers

Good managers don’t resort to punishments or rewards to motivate employees to get the job done – they inspire them through their actions, like United CEO Oscar Munoz.

In his keynote speech at Glassdoor Recruit, Munoz said it perfectly when discussing the media scandal that rocked the company last April: “I had so many people pressuring me to blame others, but I first thought of what that would say to others (and my employees) if I did that. It would show I wasn’t true to our principles. You need to stay true to who you are regardless of what others want you to do.”

Good managers do the same. They inspire others through their actions, so instead of employees doing things for personal rewards, they feel their calling at the organization.

2. Make decisions based on your company’s why

Why your company does what it does is the most powerful attraction for job seekers and customers alike. For Sinek, it’s also at the center of his theory, the Golden Circle, from which everything else (including the how and what) flows.

A company who is great at keeping the core of their why central to their business and mission is Facebook. In an early meeting with the company, their former head of talent, Samara Crasilneck summed up it when she said: “We do what we do to make money, we don’t make money to do what we do.”

Basing decisions on the why, not the what, can move mountains for your business. At Glassdoor, we just launched a new campaign to help people find the job that fits their life. Our why is at the mission of everything we do, including helping employers find informed candidates who know that the job they’ve applied for fits their life.

3. Keep the why alive

It’s not enough to establish your company’s why, Sinek warns. You need to maintain its momentum, too, especially through times of transition.

One of Sinek’s examples was Walmart, whose founder’s death in 1992 caused the company to forget its why of serving customers and employees alike. The repercussions, in the form of lawsuits to underpaid employees, were costly.

There are other things that impact the why, as well, like manipulating people through tactics that erode trust. The only way to achieve true success is to ensure employees authentically live and breathe your why.

A brand that gets this right is Southwest, a company constantly featured on Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work list. The airline’s happy employees spread joy to everyone who interacts with their brand, while the employees in turn feel freer to innovate towards a common mission.

A powerful engagement strategy

Want to learn more on how to engage your workforce and keep your why alive? Read our eBook, Actionable Advice from Top Company Leaders.