How Great Leaders Inspire Action

i1Right now, I’m on the road. This summer I visited three different countries over the span of 6 weeks. It is tiring living out of a suitcase, but the good thing is that I have a lot of alone time. Travelling alone is a time of privilege to examine one’s life. If you have the financial means, I highly recommend it. Basically, I’ve been reading, thinking a lot and also spending a lot of my time watching TED talks. I wanted to share one in particular about leadership because Dr. Ben asked me to and because I feel like its message is applicable to anyone who wants to live a life that challenges the status quo. It is called “How great leaders inspire action” by Simon Sinek.

The Golden Circle

What do Apple, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Wright brothers have in common? Simon Sinek claims that he has discovered their common pattern. According to him, it is the secret to every great and inspiring leader and organization in the world. He calls it the “golden circle.” It is quite simple. There are 3 circles on top of each other. The center circle is why, the middle circle is how and the outer circle is what. Usually we work from the outside in. But the most successful leaders and companies work from the inside out. They start with the question: why.

Every single person knows what they do and most likely how they do it, but the central question is: why. And the answer to that question is not simply “to be rich.” That is a result. The why must answer, what is your purpose, what is your cause, what is you belief? Why do you get up in the morning? Why does your organization exist? Why do you exist? Many companies have superb products and technology, but they don’t sell well. Why? Because people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.

Usually we go from the most concrete questions to the abstract ones, from what, to how and lastly (if ever) to why. For example, normal computer companies sell computers. Their marketing plan is: we make great computers, we use the best technology and we do this so you will be happy. But Apple sells an idea, an identity, first and foremost. Their belief is, “We challenge the status quo. We are unique and so are our clients. We use the highest technology and best design. We also happen to make great computers.” Apple does things normal computer companies don’t. Who buys an MP3 player from a computer company? Who would buy a TV from Dell? But people buy these products every day from Apple. We don’t buy what you do; we buy why you do it.

A Failure

In his talk Sinek, compared the Wright brothers to Samuel Pierpont Langley. When people are asked for the reason of their business failures, they usually answer 3 things: they were under-capitalized, they had the wrong people and bad market conditions. It’s always the same three things. But in Langley’s case he was supported in all three of these areas. He lacked nothing. He was funded with $500,000 by the war department to figure out how to create the flying machine. He was well-connected and working with the top scientists of the day. The New York Times followed him everywhere. Everybody was rooting for him.

The Wright brothers, on the other hand, were uneducated; no one on their team even had a university education. They were funded only by the proceeds of their bicycle shop. There was no media following them. But they had something Langley lacked: a purpose. They believed that if they figured out this flying thing, it would change the course of the world. Langley, however, was in pursuit of the result; he was in it for the riches. Proof of this is that he quit once the Wright brothers made their first successful flight. Langley could have improved their technology, but he gave up because he was not the first one to discover it. The Wright brothers had a team that supported their cause. As Sinek often says, “if you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money, but if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.”

A Success

In the summer of 1963, a quarter of a million people showed up in Washington D.C. to hear Dr. King speak. There was no facebook or email back then, so how did he manage to muster all those people? Dr. King was not the only great speaker back then. But what was different about him was that he went around saying, “I believe, I believe, I believe.” He had a cause and people bought into his cause, his dream.  Those people didn’t come for him; they came for themselves.

Dr. King believed in two types of law: God-made and man-made. He believed that until those two laws were in sync this world would never be just. The Civil Rights movement was the way for him to make his cause a reality. People followed him, not for him, but for themselves.  Furthermore, his most famous speech was, “I have a dream,” not, “I have a plan.”

Today politicians make many 12-point plans, but they are not inspiring anyone. Everyone is selling a product, but few are selling an idea. While I was taking a class on curriculum leadership, we discussed the needs of teachers to explain the reason/theory behind their curriculum. Ideally, we would like teachers to post videos explaining the reasons behind their educational methods/philosophy. But it would be difficult to implement.

How about you? Are you pushing an agenda a program or plan instead of a cause/purpose? Are you a leader who inspires others? How many times do schools and churches copy movements and go through the motions without knowing why? What about in your church or community? Are people inspired?


  1. bekamartin

    A+++. Thank you!

  2. Thanks for sharing these thoughts MJ! I appreciate your line of thinking very much. Here is the TED Talk by Simon Sinek referenced in your article. I’ve watched several TED talks and they are a great source of inspiration.

    You pointed out something of significance that deserves more thought:

    “Every single person knows what they do and most likely how they do it, but the central question is: why. And the answer to that question is not simply “to be rich.” That is a result.”

    One of the important principles every leader has to know is that results follow, they do not lead. Chasing results will drive your church or your business into the ground.

  3. Thanks MJ. These are things to keep in mind. I believe we can be only inspiring if we 100% believe in what we are doing and are on fire about something. If that is not the case, we should try to find out why. Maybe something is wrong with us, or with the idea that we want others to be inspire about. I remember that I could not really give inspiring messages in UBF because I was not 100% sure about the things that I had to preach, either because I saw them as UBF ideas imposed upon my own understanding og the gospel, or because I had problems with literal understanding of parts of the Bible, particularly the OT. All these ideas felt alien to my mind. Because I was not really 100% convinced of these teachings, I could not defend and preach them so that they inspired others.

    And yes, TED talks are a good source for education and inspiration, I also like to watch them.

    • MJ Peace

      Yes, I agree. The gospel makes so much sense to me. I love that we believe in a God who uses reason and logic. Of course, faith is a gift and it is the key to the gospel, but God is open to our questions. One of my favorite verses is Jeremiah 3:33. I do have doubts and questions sometimes, but whenever they I arise I know I can go straight to God and ask them. (Humans are not like that. People like to have command and lord over others without giving reasons for their commands. We all are in it for the power trips.)
      When I preach about the gospel it flows. I can have confidence because Jesus makes all the “whys” clear.

  4. “Why” is such a great question, it is a shame so many people don’t want to hear it! Thanks for digesting what you learned and sharing it with us.

    • MJ Peace

      I think people are afraid to ask, “why,” because they are afraid of the answers and implications they bring. For example, if I were to ask why we have Friday testimony sharing meeting, people would usually say to meditate on the word of God and apply it. But there are many other ways to achieve that purpose. The real reason for those meetings, sometimes, is simply because we’ve been doing it this way for the last 20 years; it worked back then and we hope it’ll start working now. The church needs to meet people where they are at instead of pushing people to meet their standards.