Thursday, August 16, 2012

Start With Why: A Review

I enjoyed Simon Sinek's book "Start With Why"

The main point of Sinek's book is that organizations that endure and find lasting relevance are those that have clarity in  their "Why" as an organisation.  More specifically, these organisations have clarity in their cause or have some sort of enduring belief or purpose.  You might consider the "why" the organizational vision.

I've written a little about organization vision  here

Throughout the book, Sinek gives some leadership advice that has relevance in education..  Some of my favorites include:
  • Organizations can look to manipulate its customers, which might  lead to an increase in sales but does not lead to customer loyalty.  Similarly, as leaders in schools, we need to be reminded of the limited effects of extrinsic motivations on learning.
  • Sinek makes the point that "products give life to their cause".  I like this statement.  I also believe that in schools, students give life to our cause.
  • "People don't by What you do, they buy Why you do it."   Sinek repeats this statement several times in the book.  This resonated with me in a sense that as teachers, we get more engagement from our students if we provide a clear and relevant "why" to whatever it is we are teaching.  
  • Sinek rightly makes the argument that we need align our "Why" with our "What".  In other words we need to "walk our talk"
  • I particularly liked Sinek's view of the role of trust in leadership.  Sinek writes that trust is more than a checklist.  Effective leaders prove trust in difficult times, take care of employees/staff first, causing a trickle down effect of caring relationship.  I personally think this notion is critically important in education.

Sinek also makes the strong point that leaders need to be good communicators of "WHY".  They need to inspire and attract followers.  A good leader/communicator is able to put "gut feelings" into clear and inspired language.  Sinek essentially argues that leaders need to be good orators, using vibrant language.  Buzz words won't cut it.  He uses Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement as one example of a tremendous communicator.

Some Push Back: Limited View of Leadership?
I agree with Sinek's thesis that good leaders and organizations have an enduring clarity of "Why" they are doing what they are doing. What left me feeling a little uneasy was Sinek's depiction of the prototypical effective leader.

It felt as though Sinek was favouring a certain "personality cult" of leadership.  The main examples he cited of of effective leadership were rooted on a founders ability to inspire and communicate their "why".  There is no questions that Steve Jobs or Martin Luther King were extremely effective leaders.  These are exemplars of one end of the leadership spectrum.  What about those leaders who aren't the best orators but still inspire action and movements? Those who speak through action rather than word?

What about shared leadership or vision?
Sinek does not really spend any time talking about how effective "why's" are developed.  Short of the personal "why" of the a founder - he does not offer any other examples of how effective "why's" can be created and sustained.  I'm thinking about public sector organizations with multiple stakeholders where the public good is at stake (health care, education, etc).

This is a book worth reading giving greater depth to Sinek's TED Talk.

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