How Simon Sinek Created a Global Phenomenon
If you aren’t familiar with Simon Sinek’s name, you’re probably familiar with the movement he created, launched with the release of his international bestselling book, Start With Why. You may also recognize his face from his subsequent TED talk, one of the organization’s most popular videos ever, with more than 28 million views. This New York Times bestselling author and speaker is not just spreading an idea, he’s leading a crusade. His goal? To build a world where the vast majority of people go home every day feeling fulfilled.
His refreshing views on business and leadership have attracted meetings with organizations such as Pfizer, NBC/Universal, 3M, Costco, Deckers, Ernst & Young, JetBlue and more. Beyond TED, he’s addressed the United Nations, the United States Congress and the senior leadership of the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps and Army. You may have read his commentary and ideas in publications such as The New York Times, Inc., NPR and Businessweek.
When it comes to spreading a message, he has done it all. Though I had read about why he created this movement, I wanted to learn how he did it.
After listening to his journey from depressed small-business owner to internationally acclaimed thought leader, here are my five key lessons from Simon Sinek on how to create a movement.
1. Be honest with yourself and authentic with others.
Before Sinek started to cultivate his golden circle idea, he led a marketing consultancy that beat the odds and grew for more than three years. However, he struggled with establishing structure, so the business started to fail and he started to get depressed. He explains that his trajectory took off after he paused to assess his strengths and admit his weaknesses.
“When I realized that [success is] a team sport and I have to be really good at the thing that I’m good at, and I have to be willing to help those succeed at what they’re good at, and allow others to help me succeed as well … where we commit ourselves to seeing each other succeed, that it is the reason I find myself where I am today.”
Sinek’s first book deal was the result of a meeting with Adrian Zackheim (editor of Purple Cow, Good to Great) and his books are now international bestsellers. But he didn’t build a platform or try to establish himself as an expert in order to get to this point. Instead, he explains, he went into the meeting and spent 29 minutes sharing what he believed and what he imaged the world could be, based on his idea. So Zackheim “took a bet on him.”
Sinek says that most of us present ourselves as if we’ve got it all figured out, and then we’re isolated with only ourselves to blame.
“When I was able to stop lying, hiding and faking, and was able say, ‘I’m really good at this, really bad at that,’ people came from all over [saying], ‘Oh, I could totally help you with that.'”
2. Be patient and persistent.
Sinek started small, sharing his ideas with anyone who would listen. He gave talks in friends’ apartments for a hundred bucks here and there. Before his book deal or TED talk, he had already been spreading his message for three years.
Get started now, Sinek says. If you want to be a speaker, start speaking. If you want to be an author, write.
“You have to wake up to do that thing,” he says.
But of course, he says to consider why you want what you want. If you want to start a global movement, realize that it takes a lot of time and sacrifice. Sinek says that he’s made the conscious decision to give up a lot, especially when it comes to his personal life. He believes his message is worth it.
3. Be passionate, focused and passion-focused.
One cannot write an article about Simon Sinek and leave out the importance of discovering one’s own purpose, or “why,” and learning how to clearly communicate that “why.” That exercise is the cornerstone not only of his personal success, but also of the success of many individuals and businesses who have read Sinek’s work and applied his ideas.
“Literally, I started practicing the things that I eventually wrote about, which is, I started with ‘why,'” Sinek says. “And when you do that, it attracts people who believe what you believe … If you practice, and you become clearer and more articulate in how you explain your ideas, and other people go, ‘I understand. I understand so clearly. I can tell someone your idea without you in the room,’ then what happens is your message starts to spread without you. And the thing grows.”
4. Be willing to let go and keep learning.
As Sinek learned from his first business, and now from working with countless leaders and organizations, letting go is essential for success.
“I wanted to tell everybody how I used to do it and have them do it that way,” Sinek says. “That’s assigning tasks, not letting go. It was a slow, uncomfortable process.”
After years of practice, he can now tell any of his team members, “Just take care of this, and whatever happens is fine and every decision you make, I love.”
Part of letting go is admitting that you don’t have all of the answers. Sinek makes a habit out of asking team members for feedback, even if he’s already 90 percent sure about something. The best leaders and innovators stay in what Sinek calls “student mode.” If you’re in expert mode, he explains, you just ignore the world around you.
“All the best leaders I know see [learning] as a constant every day — a daily practice.”
5. Be practical, be present and stay grateful.
Sinek explains that his life and work started to improve greatly as soon as he started to prioritize his health. He says you need to cover the basics: a good night’s sleep, diet and exercise. He also places great importance on being present and engaged — always turning his phone off while working, in meetings or when socializing.
People often congratulate Sinek on all that he’s accomplished, but this is a man on a mission. After passionately rattling off multiple problems within our modern workforce that he plans to help solve, he explains that he’s just beginning.
“No matter how much I’ve accomplished, I stand at the foot of the mountain and I go, ‘Oh, my God, I have so much more to do,’ and I love that.”
Sinek calls himself lucky. Lucky — after having spoken as much as he could to whomever he could for three years before reaching what most would call his “big break.” Lucky — although his work makes him, in his words, undateable. The more successful people I interview, the more I’m convinced that gratitude is a key piece of the success puzzle.
“This is the most exciting, amazing, wonderful thing that I’ve ever done,” Sinek says. “My life is surreal. I’m grateful for every day.”