A pioneer of brand purpose and storytelling, Simon Sinek has appeared in TEDtalks, and famously authored Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action and Leaders Eat Last. Simon spoke with Marketing magazine in the lead-up to his appearances early next year in Australia and New Zealand:
M: What ideals does your work focus around?
SS: I’m an optimist. I’ve found all kinds of different ways to bring my work to life. I write, I speak, I advise. I wake up every single day with a single vision of the world that I want to live in. A world in which the vast majority of people wake up every single morning inspired to go to work, feel safe when they’re there, and return home fulfilled at the end of the day.
It’s about leadership, and all the ways in which we lead people. Where we start is, you have to start with why. That’s where leadership begins. In marketing, absolutely, you can manipulate people, and get people to buy with promotions and things like that, and dropping your price, but to truly inspire people to want to be a part of whatever it is you’re selling , that takes using the ‘why’.
M: What are some brands doing this well?
SS: It’s typically all the companies that we love to do business with. It’s Lululemon, it’s Virgin, it’s Apple. In America it’s Southwest Airlines, it’s the companies who stand for something. Container Store. Whole Foods. All of these organisations that imagine a world that’s different than the one we’re in now, and are using their company to advance that cause.
M: One of the things that you encourage is leaders and brands to have and communicate a purpose. Is there a risk of a lack of authenticity in this? A lack of authenticity if they manufacture a purpose?
SS: Absolutely. It’s ironic. Imagine if you were to go to your friends and say ‘how do you want me to talk to you, and how do you want me to dress so that you’ll like me more?’
Your friends are going to be like ‘what?’
And you’ll say, ‘come on, tell me how you want me to dress, tell me how you want me to talk to you so that you’ll like me more.’
Your friends are going to say ‘don’t be ridiculous, just be yourself, that’s why we like you.’
It’s exactly the same in business, companies conduct focus groups and ask their customers how they want to be spoken to so that they’ll find the brand more appealing. The very act of asking people how you should be is inauthentic.
What authenticity means is stand for what you stand for, present yourself as you are, be who you are. Every company has a founder – or a group of founders – every company has a personality and a culture, and to bring that to life as it is, appeal to people who feel the same way about the world, who share your values. To do it differently, is in itself, inauthentic. The whole idea of authenticity means saying and doing the things you actually believe, that’s what it means.
M: What is it about today’s world that’s making this more important than ever?
SS: It’s always been important, but it also depends on the strategy of the company. The stuff that I talk about long term success, and long term growth. If you’re looking for short term success, and you want to be a flash in the pan, then ignore everything I talk about. It’s like a one-night stand versus a relationship.
You can ignore all the rules about good communication and listening and all the stuff that requires a solid relationship if you just want a one-night stand. You can do whatever you want. Take somebody out for a nice dinner, or be charming, or tell them what they want to hear, I don’t know.
Well, business is the same. Tell them what they want to hear, give them a promotion, give stuff away, you’ll probably get them to do business with you once or twice. But if you want to foster relationships with customers, if you actually want to build a relationship with someone, it requires all the same rules as any kind of relationship. The relationship that someone has with a brand, is the same as a relationship that someone has with a person.
M: One founded on trust.
SS: Trust, cooperation, reliability, all of it. The feeling someone has towards a brand are feelings. In other words, we don’t have different feelings towards a company or a brand or a person, our feelings are our feelings.
‘I trust you or I don’t trust you’, ‘I like you or I don’t like you’ ‘I share your values or I don’t share your values’.
We don’t adjust our internal compass if it’s business. If we do adjust it, it’s because it’s a transactional relationship. ‘I’ll give you money, you’ll give me stuff, but we don’t have to be friends’.
For me it’s all about cooperation. The world in which we live is becoming an increasingly lonely world where we’re disconnected, where we’re on devices or sitting on computers all day long. The more interaction we have with each other, the better life becomes.
The more we enjoy our jobs, the more we enjoy our relationships.
My message overall is about balance. It’s about interacting with people more than I think we do.
Being willing to ask for help and acceptance when it’s offered, and putting aside the lying, hiding and faking that everything’s fine when sometimes we just want to talk to someone, or we want to tell them something exciting, or we want to brag a little bit and have people say ‘I’m so proud of you.’
It’s what it’s all about. I think we need more of it at work and that translates into the rest of our lives as well. The amazing thing is, is when our relationships improve at work, we enjoy our work more, we’re better at it, we’re more innovated, we’re more productive, we’re more engaged, and it actually makes the company function better.
Companies that understand this, and create cultures that their people can foster relationships, ultimately do better.
M: Any pointers for how to foster that from a leadership perspective?
SS: No mobile phones in conference rooms. Ever.
People sit in meetings talking to people who aren’t there, as opposed to being engaged in the meeting. Or worse, when we’re waiting for someone to come to the meeting and we’re all waiting for the meeting to start, instead of talking to one another, we’re head down in our devices until the meeting starts.
Relationships aren’t built in a day, or in a moment. It’s like brushing your teeth. It’s lots and lots and lots of innocuous little interactions that build relationships and build trust. At the very minimum, there should be no cell phones in conference rooms ever.