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The Golden Circle
Sinek’s unwavering viewpoint that everything we do must start with why is compelling. He shares that every single person on the planet knows what they do, some people know how they do it, but very few people know why they do what they do. Who are these inspirational leaders? These are folks like Dr. Martin Luther King who gave his “I have a dream speech” where over 250k people came to Washington D. C. I’ll bet every one of these folks received a text message in 1963 to remind them of Dr. King’s speech. Right? These are folks that articulate a clear vision and never waver, even in the face of layers of adversity. These people function and operate from the inside out. For those that do not develop their cause, Sinek states, they rationalize their behaviors and experiences based on tangible products such as “The Nike shoes were cheap and cost effective” but they don’t really buy into why Nike exists. If a anyone leads us with how they do things as opposed to why they do things, we are more apt to spend time figuring out different ways achieving our own cause that deviate from whatever the company’s principles are. Leaders aren’t inspiring and folks aren’t motivated by them; it’s a cascading result.  

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Comfort in Being A Rebel
At what point do we feel comfortable with diversified thinking within an organization? Being a rebel can come with a blanket of safety, believe it or not. If we have clearly communicated our why and our belief systems coincide with those that believe the way we do, we have a bit of a leverage point in which we can make our vision even clearer. Sinek (2009) states that when people operate from the inside out, they communicate their cause to others and how and what we do should support every action they take. Let me share a personal example. When I went off to college, my goal was to get good grades and leave with a degree. You can see here that this is me operating on a how and a what. My how was to get good grades (process), my what was to leave with a credential (result). However, my first year as an undergraduate student was miserable. I had more red pen on my paper from my professor than black printer ink. I cried right in front of the professor and it was a “pity me” moment. When I broke down, something changed in me. I realized at that moment that I had to learn to fail forward and turn every challenge into an opportunity for growth. This is whenI found a bookmark that put into words the person I wanted to be. “Set your course by the stars, and not by the lights of every passing ship.” – Gina Putnam. I cannot find this bookmark nor can I find this author when I google her, but this moment left a book imprint on my brain and I learned that WHY I am doing what I am doing is not for a grade or a degree. I learned that turning a challenge into an opportunity would be my own personal navigation tool in which I would learn to use many years to come. My WHY was not naturally born. It came out of a failure. Had I not experienced the RED PEN moment, I would never have dreamt to navigate my journey into the love and passion I have for learning now. Sinek states that if your WHY is unclear, but your WHAT is very clear, you will rely on your WHAT which will in turn force you to rationalize your own behavior into something tangible and in words many understand, give excuses. For me, “set your course by the stars” opened a hidden world for me. I learned that success was not super grades and perfect attendance. I learned that success could be incidental. I may not always know HOW I’m going to get where I want to be, but I do know, WHY I do what I do. I can brace opportunities that come even if they are not easy. Something else I have learned along my journey is that the more difficult way, does not always lead to better results.  What drives people is not always something tangible. Sinek offers up the idea that the intangible, the WHY, is what drives leaders to be who they are. Leaders do not always see a clear direction in which they are going, but they will navigate their way. One student in the program in which I teach made the following statement, “The DLL program shows you where to look, but does not tell you what to see.” Would you agree that folks like this might be inspired?  

If you are still not convinced to start with your WHY, let us be reminded that…..”People don’t buy what you do; they buy WHY you do it.” – Simon Sinek (2009)

Is the idea even trustworthy?
When you have considered your why, what purpose does it serve? Does it serve you or others? If everything you do reflects your purpose, what do others see? Do those that promote self gain have a loyal following? How can you tell the difference is someone is doing something for others or for themselves? It’s pretty simple. There is no simple formula or equation – just ask them. The value others perceive in you can be traced back to your actions and words and output. Let’s consider this in the realm of a learner’s world. If a teacher is consistently mentioning to the class that we have to hurry up and cover this so we can move on. Her why seems to show that is trying to push through the process, right? However, if a teacher mentions to her learners that she wants every student to learn something, even if it is not what she expects them to learn, something in those words can trigger a chain reaction in students. Students might perceive that she values them and the learning process. It’s important to focus on the learner, the learning, and the learning environment. Sinek reiterated a good point when he differentiates between success and achievement. He stated that achievement is measured by a metric, a metric that we choose, whether it is appropriate or not. But success can measured in a different way.  An entire process leading up to a transformation could be considered a success. A success might be a considerable number of followers or a 100% increase in revenue in a first year business, even if that amount was only $1,000. Sinek says, the only difference between you and a caveman is the car you drive. Unless you help folks see that they are contributing to something bigger than they are, they might not be inspired. Sinek posits that, “For a message to have real impact, to affect behavior and seed loyalty, it needs more than publicity. It needs to publicize some higher purpose, cause or belief to which those with similar values and beliefs can relate” (p. 146). How can build this out in ourselves so others will see their own values. I believe you must start with why.

The Danger That Comes Without a Cause
Think of the last time you did something you were proud of. What was your inspiration? What caused you to start the project? What factors determined whether you finished the project? I remember a time when my mother asked me to pull weeds and mow the grass when I was a youngster. I believed her cause was simply to torture me as a kid. No joke – I really did. I never once considered that she was trying to fulfill something she loved – gardening. Her cause was to have a beautifully landscaped rock garden with rocks for every state she travelled through. In order to do this, she had to have a love for gardening. I did not share that love and I still do not today. When my mom TOLD me what to do, I did not perceive the value she did in gardening. I could not see beyond myself when she told me to do something. However, if she had shared why she loved gardening and what this did for her, I might have been more inclined to share in that love too. Still today, I despise gardening because of the memories I had of pulling weeds for hours on end. The danger here was that because I did not have a reason other than someone telling me what to do that shaped my perspective. What if I had decided to take ownership of gardening at some point because I believed the way she did? What if my mom had given me a choice of where I wanted to start and once I pulled the weeds, I could plant a few flowers? Instead, I never inherited a green thumb and everything I would attempt to plant, would probably die. Let’s take this example back to teaching and learning. Where do students develop their passion? Does it come from being told how to do something, when, where and why? Something I always refer to is that the more prescriptive we are as instructors, the less creative our learners can be. Sometimes this concept baffles the masses. It is easy to be told what to do and how to do it. A template is easy to follow, but what have you learned? How did this connect to what your passion and belief systems are? This is another reason that we must establish our cause. Remember the saying, “Feed the teachers so they don’t eat the students?” Just as much as our teachers need to know and understand why we do what we do, our learners need to develop their own passion. Something I have learned is that you are ONLY limited by the confines and barriers in which you surround yourself with. What if one day you decided to knock those invisible barriers down and venture out of your comfort zone. In on respect, what could happen as a result of this could be purely incidental, but might be totally worth exploring.
Some of my students question what should come first: why, how, or what? They provide the rationale behind their thinking. If you consider how to do things, but do not consider why you do things, you might end up in a vicious cycle where you continually try to beat the process instead of fulfilling internal goals and motivations. If we consider how we do things first, we are consistently trying methods that will work to meet our needs, but we soon find that our cause was not articulated so we keep “searching” the process until we finally are happy with the result. For example, if your goal is to run five miles without stopping, trying different ways to achieve your goal might help, but eventually you will fall back into your old habits if you do not clearly articulate why you want to run five miles. What will allow you to stop trying is that you were running for a process and not a cause. A dose of passion can go a long way. Don’t believe me? Try it. 

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York, NY: Penguin Group.