Start with Why – Simon Sinek

I just finished reading (listening) to Start with Why by Simon Sinek. A shout out to the South Australian Public Libraries system for having a free copy to listen to.

This book is my first foray into business, leadership, marketing and management topics. I’ve chosen to explore a little in these areas because of a recognised shift that I need to make in my career.

Since 2017, I’ve been working at Flinders University in a mental health promotion role. Although I have many collaborators, I am essentially a team of 1 – I’m the only person doing my role. If I’m honest, this has been something I have loved about the role. I’ve been able to be the main architect of my learning and working journey.

But my goals are shifting a bit now. I am considering what it would mean to step back from the day-to-day functioning of my role and look at building a team. Having only ever worked as a part of teams, but not leading them, my mental models around leadership and management are limited. I can identify what I found useful (and not useful) about my previous managers, but I have no real sense of what I’d be like as a manager or how I would lead. And so it is kinda exciting to step into this world.

There was no real wisdom involved in picking Start with Why as my first book in the area, but in hindsight it feels like a good choice. This is a fairly old book now, and many reviews and analyses exist, so I will just take a moment to identify my key takeaways.

Thankfully the book is unambiguous in its core message – get your ‘Why’, ‘How’ and ‘What’ in alignment/balance and it sets the conditions for all sorts of positive personal and professional outcomes.

For me this translated as follows:

  • What do I do?
    • I teach, develop and deliver courses/ programs/ services, write, conduct research, and deliver campaigns all with a focus on mental health, wellbeing and productivity.
  • How do I go about this?
    • A commitment to always be exploring (e.g. researching), learning (e.g. reading/listening), experimenting (trying stuff out in my own life), building (translating what I discover and learn into new lectures, programs and services) and sharing (finding varied ways to distribute these learnings to others). If I am constantly engaging in these, it sets the context and provides the content for my ‘What’.
  • Why do I do this?
    • I like the idea of a world where everyone has access to high quality knowledge, skills, tools and resources to help build a better life or help those they care about build a better life.

The articulation of ‘Why’ is important because Sinek argues that the best professional relationships (i.e. collaborators, partners, teams etc) are underpinned by a shared ‘Why’. A person might be interested in working with me at first because of the ‘What’ they see me doing (e.g. give a lecture) or ‘How’ I go about creating it (e.g. reading the literature), but a long-term, fruitful, successful and productive relationship will be more likely if we share a common ‘Why’. In my case, this is the vision of putting high quality, actionable information in the hands of everyone to help them build a better life.

It took multiple attempts, whilst listening to the book to articulate my ‘Why’. The catalysts for me achieving some clarity in this regard were using the prompt ‘I like to imagine a world where……..’. as well as thinking back over my professional career at the things I had done, that I valued most, and what they provided. It became clear that the projects I enjoyed most (and felt most success) were those where I had learned something that helped me in my life and endeavored to find ways to share that freely with others. A pleasingly simple ‘why’.

So what does this mean for me in terms of leadership and management? First, it means better communicating my ‘Why’. That part is easy. I get many chances to interact with people as part of my job and when asked ‘what do you do?’ I can give a more sophisticated answer than simply listing off my daily activities. Second, it means it means finding, attracting and nurturing collaborations where it is clear we share a common ‘why’. I am fortunate in that such collaborations already exist for me. For example, I work with Be Well Co, a workplace wellbeing solutions organisation. I have always felt a strong connection to their work and people and it was reading this book that highlighted the underlying reason. They share a common goal of putting high quality, life-changing information the hands of everyday people.

So I head into 2023 with a clarification of my underlying ‘why’ and a sparked interest in learning more about management and leadership theory and practice. If you know of good books in the area, suggestions always welcome. You can also find me on Goodreads where I am trying to track better my reading throughout the year.

Take care.

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