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August 24, 2019 Saturday 12:09:27 PM IST

Go for Golden Circle to Lead

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The concept of leadership and the ingredients that make a great leader have long captured the imagination of academic and business world alike. The styles and tactics of great leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi have been endlessly examined and investigated to try and capture exactly what it is that makes for effective leadership. 

Purpose is increasingly being consideredpivotal intraversing this uncertain world we live in today. A leader with purpose depicts success in terms of the legacy they will leave, the effect they expect to create in realising both monetary and business objectives and more broadly in terms of impact at the team, organisational and stakeholder level. A leader with purpose takes extra care to align individual values with their own definition of success, and accomplish a sense of meaning and well-being in achieving their goals. Studies show that fewer than 25% of leaders have a strong sense of their individual purpose.

Why are some firmssell more products although their rivals are equally good? Why are some leaders more influential than others? Simon Sinek, an ex-advertising executive and author, researched the victory of the leading and influential leaders across the globe and he found that the key to success lies in the way these institutions and individuals think, act and communicate. In Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, heshares the notion that great leaders motivate others by putting the Why (the purpose) before the How (the process), or the What (the product). These are the key leadership insights he presents in the book. 

Golden Circle


According to Simon Sinek, most organizations are clueless about why customers choose their products. Successful firms, however, let their customer approach driven by three questions that make up the Golden Circle - Why, How and What. Simon Sinek found that majority of the organizations work from the outside in that is from the WHAT question. To comprehend the Golden Circle, you need to know what it entails. The WHAT ring of the Golden Circle characterises the products or services a firm sells. The HOW is adescription of what the firm does. In this ring of the Golden Circle, the firmdescribes why their products/ services are better than that of the competitors. The WHY is about what a firm believes in, not about making a profit. Hence, inspired and influential organizations communicate from the inside out rather than outside in. 

Apple computers

Simon Sinek validated his Golden Circle by quoting the example of the firm Apple. This computer giant starts with the WHY, the heart of the Golden Circle. So instead of communicating what they do and how they are better than their competitors, they communicate their vision to their prospectivecustomers. They think differently in that way challenging the status quo. Then they proceed to the HOW question by enlightening their prospective customers that their attention-grabbing designs are easy to use. Finally, they land at the WHAT question: they make computers. Simon Sinek reasons that customers do not buy products because of what organizations do but because of why they do it. Influential organizations do not structurally differ from the competitors, nevertheless their customers think they do. They want the products of these organizations because these firmsprovide an answer the question WHY.

Wright Brothers



Samuel Pierpont Langley who worked at Smithsonian institute received a grant of $50K by the War department to invent a flying machine. He hired the best people available and everyone pinned their hopes in him. A few hundred miles away in Dayton Ohio, Orville and Wilber Wright, had none of this ‘recipe for success’.They funded their project from the littlerevenue they generated from their humble bicycle shop. They and their entire team were notcollege educated. But they were inspired by a cause, by a purpose, by a belief. They firmlybelieved that if they could invent a flying machine, it would change the course of the world.Conversely, the main objective of Langley was to be rich and famous. That is the reason why on December 17th of 1903, Wright brothers created history by taking the first manned flight. 

Human brain

Simon Sinek associates the three rings of the Golden Circle to the human brain. The WHAT, or outer circle is linked to the neocortex. This part of the brain is associated with rational thought and language. The HOW and WHY circles are associated to the limbic brains. The limbic brains are accountable for feelings like trust and loyalty even though they do not have a capacity for language. This is why influential organizations start from an emotional question rather than a rational question. They aim the decision-making part of the brain and they know that their prospective buyers will then justify their decisions. But before these prospective buyers do this, the influential firms have already established a strong connection. They have generated a match between the real reason and the underlying decision. 


All companies start with ‘Why’, but only the exceptional ones keep their ‘Why’ clear continuously. Those who ignore ‘Why’ will struggle regularly to outdo someone else instead of outdoing themselves. Golden Circle is about a naturally created pattern, a way of thinking, behaving and communicating that gives some leaders the unique ability to inspire those around them. The more institutions and individualsare aware about the Golden Circle, the more the people there will be who wake up, feeling contented by the work they do. 



Dr. Manu Melwin Joy

The writer is an Assistant Professor at School of Management Studies, CUSAT

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