The Bold & Courageous Leader Podcast: Episode 11
Rhonda: Welcome to the Bold & Courageous Leader Podcast from rhondapeterson.com. This is Rhonda Peterson, your Bold & Courageous Leader coach, along with my co-host Andee Marks. Today, we’re exploring a leadership concept introduced by Simon Sinek and his book, Start with Why. As Bold & Courageous Leaders, we benefit from understanding this concept. One of the qualities of a Bold & Courageous Leader even reflects back to this. Bold & Courageous Leaders are guided by their “why”. They make decisions based on how it relates to the “why” of the organization and their personal “why”.
Andee: Talking about “why” always reminds me of my grandkids because they ask that question a lot. As anybody who’s been around kids at all knows, it’s a toddler or preschooler question that we tend to ask less and less as we get older. It’s still a critical question that needs to be considered, albeit at a deeper level as we age.
Rhonda: Simon Sinek defines a hierarchy of increasing awareness that defines success and answer to the questions why, how, and what. He expresses this as a bullseye called the golden circle.
Andee: Rhonda, let’s help our listeners get a visual of this. If you will, think about a bullseye made of up three concentric circles. The inner circle is “why,” the middle circle is “how”, and the outer circle is “what.”
Rhonda: That’s a great way to describe it, Andee and I’m sure that visual is going to help people put that in their head. Actually, if they have the opportunity, they can go to the podcast and in the show notes, we’re going to have all the diagrams we talk about, will be in the show notes so they can get a pdf of that. Whether it’s now when they’re listening or whether it’s later. That will be there for them to look at it.
Smart people in organizations know what they do, they understand the products they sell or the services that they offer. Some organizations can articulate their companies how. They know what sets them apart from their competition, their strategic point of difference or unique selling proposition. It’s a rare individual or leader, however, that can articulate their “why,” the reason they exist as a company, why they get up in the morning and go to work. Your “why” is the purpose or cause or belief that underlies everything you do as an individual and in your organization.
In his book Sinek says this, “Making money is not a “why.” Revenues, profits, salaries, and other monetary measurements are simply results of what we do. The “why” inspires us. It’s the measuring stick that provides alignment to your work and your life. The majority of organizations work from the outside in, rather than the inside out.” Sinek says that’s backwards. “When you work from the inside out, you know your “why,” you start there. You attract the people who believe in what you do and they’re loyal to you and what you believe in because it relates to their “why” also. Your team, your employees, or your customers believe in your purpose. They’re committed to your organization along with what you stand for.”
Andee: You’ve talked more about the “why” and the “what.” What’s the connection in “why” and “how”?
Rhonda: The connection between the “why” and the “how” is that once you know your “why,” you have to be able to translate that into what it looks like in the world. Defining the “how” can be as big of a struggle as defining the “why,” but you have to know where that connection is. Knowing your “why” provides a clarity of what you do and how you do it. That’s where you find your purpose, the context and the emotion that motivates you and your team to do what matters and to make a difference.
As Sinek explored this concept, he discovered a fascinating parallel that explains why defining the “how” and the “why” isn’t easy. Sinek’s diagram with “why” at the center, commonly referred to as the golden circle, is the same as a simple diagram of the brain and how we process information. I find this fascinating. The diagram of Sinek’s golden circle and the brain show a similarity.
Andee: Okay, once again, let’s picture the bullseye. This is for as you’re listening, if you don’t have the opportunity to check the podcast notes, hopefully this will help you follow along as we get into this next section. Picture the bullseye again. This time the center of the bullseye is labeled the limbic brain and the outer circle is the neocortex.
Rhonda: And the limbic brain takes up the first two circles of the bullseye.
Rhonda: As we think about the diagram of the brain, the “what”, the outside circle of the golden circle, is related to our neocortex, which is called the Homo sapien brain. It’s the newest part of our brain, the center of logic, analytical thought, and language. The “how” and “why” are part of the limbic brain. The limbic brain is responsible for our feelings. It’s also responsible for all human behavior and decision making.
To me, the critical piece of information about this part of the brain is that it has no capacity for language and I find this so fascinating. How are we to express our “why”? But this is the reason our “why” doesn’t come easily. The lack of language in this part of the brain explains the lack of understanding of “why” and often “how” by most organizations. It’s difficult to put it into words, but difficult doesn’t mean impossible. When you clarify your “why,” you’re reaching a new level of meaning and true authenticity in your work. You’ll define the measuring stick that provides alignment in your work and your personal life.
You’ll match the authentic you on the inside to the work you do on the outside. You’ll be able to articulate and share your vision with your team, leading to a thriving organization focused on bringing your purpose, your “why” to life. “Why” is the purpose, a cause or belief that underlies your organization’s existence. It provides a clear answer to each of these three questions. Why do you get out of bed in the morning? Why does your organization exist? And why should anyone care?
Andee: Those are really critical questions to answer. Getting to those answers, getting to your “why” is a real challenge if it’s rooted in the part of the brain that has no language.
Rhonda: That’s right. The limbic brain is the seat of emotion and behavior, and it has no language. It’s difficult to articulate something that has no language connected to it. The limbic brain is also the seat of decision making, which of course is very different than what a lot of people want to think about when they want to think that they’re making their decisions in a logical fashion. The reality is, that’s not necessarily true. It’s interesting that we make decisions in the limbic brain, the seat of emotion, not in the neocortex, the logical part of the brain, as I just said.
Until we work on it, our “why” is a fuzzy thing. It’s easy to tell someone what we do and how we’re different from the other organization down the street. The problem is “what” and “how” don’t inspire action. We don’t make decisions based purely on facts and figures. We make decisions based on emotion, on how we feel about a product or service, or the person that represents them. Sinek says commodities start with what, leaders start with “why”. They inspire us to action with “why”. As a leader, especially a Bold & Courageous Leader, doing the work of clarifying your “why” and the “why” for your organization or for your team is critical for your success. For most small organizations the “why” of the leader is the “why” of the organization. It’s not easy work, but it’s very valuable work. When it’s done, you’ll have the key to success that matters to you.
What’s the process for clarifying your “why”? You clarify your “why” through a process of reflection, finding the thread of insight in your experience, your observations, and in feedback from others, others who know you well. It’s work that requires focused time and willingness to go internally to where you’ve experienced your personal definition of success. It takes patience and willingness to trust others as you obtain feedback from three to five close friends, also.
This relates to the qualities of a Bold & Courageous Leader. Self-awareness and trusting God for authentic answers. This is another piece of self-awareness, but through this process you’ll establish the connection between your feelings and your limbic brain and the results-oriented neocortex, where language resides. By taking the time to do this, you can clearly express your “why”. You connect that limbic brain to the neocortex in this way. Remember, when you start with “why,” you inspire your team to action, that’s a great motivator.
Andee: You know Rhonda, this really reminds me of a tool that I use when I am helping people discover their unique design for ministry in the church setting. It’s based on the S.H.A.P.E. program at Saddleback, Rick Warren’s church in California. S.H.A.P.E. is an acronym for Spiritual Gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experiences. We look at all five of those components to determine how God has equipped us for ministry. It’s basically coming to this place of understanding, okay, God has allowed these experiences in my life, He’s given me this personality, He has… I’ve learned these skills and abilities throughout my life, etc. You end up coming to your “why,” which is actually rooted in your heart, rather than in your abilities or in your experiences.
Rhonda: I agree with you Andee, the “why” is rooted in your heart and that would be part of why your “why” is in your limbic brain as opposed to your neocortex. The “why” is heart-related, it’s out of your emotion, because the passion, the purpose, is out of your heart. Your abilities and your experiences really I think are much more neocortex related. They’re more “what” related as opposed to “why” related.
Andee: This may be a bit of a rabbit trail, but let’s pursue it for just a moment. When we’re talking about the limbic brain, what I’m hearing is that it’s been around longer. I understand that you’re talking about this in terms of evolution but I think it also correlates to just… You’re talking about evolution of the human species, but I think it also relates to our personal evolution as we grow up. The limbic brain, it’s been there longer, we draw on it from a much earlier age. The neocortex is what gets added as we experience life. When you start talking about your “why” being rooted in your heart, it’s something much deeper. It’s not just lying on the surface, it’s something deeper and it’s going to take a little bit more perseverance perhaps to dig that out and put some language to it. Would you agree with that?
Rhonda: I absolutely agree with that. I believe that it takes… I don’t believe, I know. It takes great intentionality to do the work to get to your “why”. It’s not something that you’re going to be able to sit down in 30 minutes and write it out. That is an unrealistic expectation and I don’t want to paint the picture for people that this is going to be something that is something you just crank out, because that’s not realistic. It does take time. It does take intentionality. It does take getting feedback from others, and also really going deep inside yourself to figure that out, because you’re going to places within yourself that are not, as you said, they’re just not surface. They’re places where we don’t ordinarily spend time, but that investment of your time and your authentic self to get to that, is deeply worth it. In the ability to get to a new level of alignment with who you are, because if we’re just working on the surface, we never know that we’re in alignment, because we don’t know what we need to be aligned with. It takes time. It takes intentionality. It takes a deep desire to do the work, because it’s not something that, you can’t just pop it out. It’s not going to happen.
Andee: But I think that the byproduct of that or the end result is going to be extremely fulfilling because you’re kind of getting at the core of who God created you to be.
Rhonda: Absolutely. I would call this, you will be able to identify your masterpiece work when you do the work of going inside, listening to what God is speaking into your spirit about that, allowing Him to create you anew around that, and then listening to what others are seeing and experiencing of you that goes beyond just your abilities, but the deep identity of who you are.
Rhonda: Because it’s reflected out to other people.
Andee: Where does the “how” come in to play?
Rhonda: That is the excellent next step of this whole thing. As a leader, who can articulate your “why,” you become a keeper of your “why” within the organization. You also need the discipline of “how” people to help translate that “why” into a “how” for products and services in the marketplace. Or for the work that your team is doing in your organization. Once the “why” of your organization, of your team, has been identified, it has to be translated into the marketplace. A “why” without a tangible expression is just a dream. That doesn’t mean that dreams are bad, but dreams need to become real so that they can make a difference. You have to share the dream with others so that they can benefit. You can’t hide your light under a basket.
The purpose or belief that you work so hard to articulate needs to become real so others can partake of it also, and that’s where the “how” comes in. That was a really long answer to the question of “Where does the “how” come in to play?” The “how” comes into play in making this real so that others can be part of it also. What’s really interesting is “how” requires different strengths than those of the “why” person. This is where you really need to have a team. “How” gifted leaders come alongside that visionary “why” person to translate the dream of “why” into reality. You might say that “why” is vision and “how” is strategy. This kind of reminds me of you and Pete, Andee.
Andee: It’s true, Pete is definitely the visionary, and I’m the one who comes alongside and says, “Okay, you’ve got this vision, here’s how we can make it a reality.” Putting the steps together, figuring out who needs to do what, coming up with a timeline, that strategic piece, and Pete has come over the years to understand that that’s really, really critical to his success and the success of the vision that God has given him. He doesn’t have the skill set to put together the strategic plan, at least not to whittle it down to the extent that I can. He’s really happy to be allowed to vision, to come up with new ideas, and then roll them out to me and then I’ll start putting the pieces together for him.
I learned a long time ago thought that, thinking back to our conversation with Susan Bandy about Strengthsfinder, Pete is an Ideator. He can come up with an incredible number of ideas and I’ve figured out, after a while, that he had to talk about an idea for three weeks in a row before I would actually try and develop a strategic plan. I spent a lot of time, just wasted time, trying to come up with a strategic plan for an idea that he had thought more of in jettison but hadn’t shared that with me. It’s taken us a while to figure out how to work together as a team to make it very productive.
Rhonda: That’s a really important piece of information. When you’re forming your team, you need to learn each other’s, I would call that almost the idiosyncrasies of how your strengths work together and how the whole of your personalities and your styles and your strengths are going to mesh, and who takes what part of the role. Who is going to be the one who says, “Okay, don’t work on that yet, because we don’t know what that’s going to look like so it still needs to be fleshed out before we go down the road of strategically how are we going to make this real?” That is a really important way of looking at it.
Thinking about that, “how” is another part of the initially unspoken emotional, behavioral connection between the organization’s “why” and the products and services they offer. When you think about the fact that you have to figure out what parts of the vision are going to be where we focus our time at any given time. Especially when you have somebody who has all these ideas, or other people might call it Shiny Bauble Syndrome, I have other friends who call it that. I’m not accusing Pete of that, I’m just saying I have other friends who describe themselves as having Shiny Bauble Syndrome. You can’t go down the road focusing on everything at once, because it’s impossible. How do we make the decision of what the priorities are? That link is critical to bringing the dream to life.
The really important thing is that you were talking about you learning and that we were talking about the other awareness and that how you and Pete have learned to work together is, there has to be deep trust between the “why” and “how” parts of the organization, because they’re working in concert to bring the vision to reality. Without that partnership, it’s not going to be able to happen.
A recent client experience shows the importance of having the right people in the “why” and “how” positions in the organization. My client has stepped into a larger leadership role in her ministry organization over the past couple of years, following a leader who had really strong “why” gifts, but she was lacking in “how” gifts. My clients personal “why” is helping others connect to the organization’s “why” in a way that leverages their own God-given gifts and strengths. She translates her personal “why” into a “how” that sets her team apart from the rest. By communicating the team’s purpose and vision, which is the “why”, she inspires each team member to find a “how” related to their own strengths.
The result, which is the “what” is an incredible impact on their city. This led to leadership responsibilities in additional cities. She’s working to replicate the success of her current role to new locations. Her ability to translate the organizations “why” into a “how” that each person relates to and owns using their own personal strengths is in high demand for her organization, as one might imagine.
Andee: Question… I think the question is, in terms of self-awareness, am I a “why” person or am I a “how” person? Or can you be both?
Rhonda: My personal answer to the question of can you be both, is I don’t believe so. I believe that each of us has a tendency toward being a “why” person organizationally or a “how” person organizationally. “Why” and “how” roles are both critical to organizational success. Each of us has a personal “why” and your personal “why” may translate through your strengths and your abilities into being the “why” person in an organization or you may have “how” gifts, strengths that lead to translating that larger “why” into how it’s lived out in the marketplace.
Recently I had a conversation with a woman, just at a party, where she heard what I do and she asked me, “I know what my spiritual gifts are, but how do I live them out in the marketplace? I just really don’t understand what that looks like and I don’t know how to translate that.” My response to her having listened to her and knowing a little bit of what she does was, she needs to be looking for the place where her spiritual gifts can be translated into a “how” related to a “why” that matches her personal “why,” because she is a “how” person. She’s the person who has gifts and strengths like you do, Andee, that are more in the strategic, here’s how we translate this into reality.
She’s not the visionary who thinks about what is it we need to do. She’s the person who has the ability to say, this is how we make this real. A lot of times visionaries and “why” people have a struggle with that making it real part. They are overwhelmed. They can have all the ideas in the world, as you were talking about with Pete and having to wait three weeks for an idea to get fleshed out. They can have all the ideas in the world, but the process of strategically making them real, of that first we do this and then we do this and then we do this and then we do this, is very difficult for them. It takes so much time that they get frustrated and sometimes they walk away from it because they just can’t stay in that space.
That’s why finding those people who are “how” people, building relationships where the “why,” the overall “why” is something you share in common, can really take an organization or a team to a level that a visionary could never do it on their own and the “how” person wouldn’t have the vision of where they wanted to go with it.
Andee: I think what I’m hearing you say, Rhonda, is that there is equal importance in the “why” and the “how” in terms of functioning. If you’re a “why” person, your role is equally as important… I guess I probably ought to say that the other way around, because usually the visionaries are the ones who get the most attention and the “how” people are the kind of the behind-the-scenes often times. They are the ones who are actually making it happen. Again, the vision isn’t going to happen without the “how” person taking care of the nuts and bolts, giving it the hands and feet it needs to actually become reality. One role is just as important as another.
Rhonda: You’re absolutely right. There is a “why” without a “how” is a dream. Dreams are good, but dreams that can’t be brought to reality, there’s no one who gets to partake in the benefit of that “why” of that dream. Both of these roles are important and they originate in the older part of the brain, which is the seat of emotion, not language. Again, we just need to refresh our memory on that. The ability to translate the “why” of the organization into a “how,” what sets you apart in the marketplace, is equally important as the visionary, the “why” skills. If you have this skill, you’re going to be most fulfilled and rewarded if you connect with an organizational “why” that resonates with your personal “why” and you help bring it to life. That’s that alignment piece.
You align with an organization that matches your personal “why.” Personal alignment, alignment with the organization “why,” is really important. There’s a number of clients I’ve worked with and continue to work with, who deeply desire a career position where they can believe in what their company values are and that they can contribute on a high level to their cause, the company expression, that really has deep meaning for them. They are people who are desperately seeking that kind of an organization. Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.” Simon Sinek really drives this point home in his Ted Talk and we’ll put a link to his Ted Talk on this subject in the show notes.
As a leader, when you can articulate your “why,” you attract those who believe what you believe and can consistently over time do business with people who believe what you believe. The really cool thing that Simon Sinek does with the golden circle is he helps you think about how to structure your organization with this by bringing the golden circle, which is a flat diagram to life by making it 3-D. The circle becomes a cone which Sinek sees as a megaphone. I think this is the greatest metaphor, I just love that. It’s the way of communicating your “why” to the world.
Let’s picture a diagram of this metaphor. It’s a cone, we can all picture what a cone looks like and at the top of this megaphone is the “why,” which is being articulated by the leader. The responsibility of the leader is holding the “why” vision and sharing it relentlessly with the rest of the organization. Relentlessly in a positive way, of course. The next level of the megaphone is the “how.” This is those who are inspired by the “why” who deeply believe in it, and they use their gifts and strengths to bring that “why” to life. They strategically figure out how we make that happen.
At the bottom of the megaphone is the “what.” The things that the company says and does to breathe life into the “why.” It’s the products and services that make the “why” tangible. In a small organization, the “how” and the “what” are probably the same person. All three levels of the megaphone clearly communicate a consistent “why” to the world. You have the clarity of the “why,” the discipline of the “how,” and the consistency of the “what” working in balance and in the right order. Through this system, this message is spread loud and clear. Everyone who believes what you believe is drawn to your products and services. They connect with you “why” and value the products and services that you produce, because it is resonating with them.
The clarity of your message allows everyone who interacts with the organization to become a champion of your cause. The message starts at the top with the companies “why” and moves throughout the company, or the team, or the organization. It inspires everyone involved. The team members, the customers, the vendors, to become raving fans and in turn they share the message. As a Bold & Courageous Leader, this is what we want as we translate who God is calling us to be into the marketplace. Whatever role within that we have, we want to be able to live that out, whether we are the “why” person or the “how” person, or we’re part of the “what.” In different part of our life, we’re probably going to have different roles within that.
Andee: That’s interesting. Am I hearing you say that you may move from being a “why” person to being a “how” person?
Rhonda: In some situations, that may happen. I’ll give an example of out my own life. With the Bold & Courageous Leader Podcast, I’m definitely the “why” person. Even though, of course, without you as the “how” person and the bouncing things off of you, actually we have several “how” people, because we have Dean, who is the “how/what” person on our podcast. Without Dean, the podcast would not happen.
Andee: That’s right.
Rhonda: Actually, he’s a really good example of our “what” person. He’s the guy who takes the sound that we’re making and translates it to something that is coherent and out there online so that people can hear what we’re doing. If I think about the role that I have in my church, I’m not the “why” person, I’m a “how” person. I’m a person who takes the vision that we as a congregation have put together and help the leaders of different ministry areas put that “why” into reality by using “how” skills that I have to help them understand how to become a better leader. In that role, I’m more of a “how” person than a “why” person.
Andee: But your “why” is still there in that. What motivates you is raising up leaders.
Rhonda: Absolutely. But my role within that is translated differently.
Rhonda: Yes, raising up leaders is definitely my “why.” That shows up in everything that I do. It’s just that in that different organization, my role within it is different. Are you a “why” person or a “how” person? I invite each one of you to consider that, to look into your personal “why” and how that impacts what you’re doing in any leadership role that you have. Let me leave you with this question: How is your “why” communicated to the world?
To find out more about today’s topic, get downloads of our previous podcasts or to learn how you too can become a Bold & Courageous leader, visit rhondapeterson.com. Our ever-growing community is waiting for you. If you liked today’s show, there are three things you can do. You can subscribe to the podcasts on iTunes or Stitcher. You can give us a rating or a review on iTunes. The subscriptions and ratings help others to find us more easily. And you can help us get the word out by sharing the podcast with your friends. This is Rhonda Peterson, your Bold & Courageous Leader Coach. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you for the next Bold & Courageous Leader Podcast.