I don’t mind admitting the books I usually read include romance novels and other sappy stuff, so writing a business book review is outside my comfort zone. But working during the COVID-19 pandemic has made me look at a lot of things differently, and I set out to find a book that would help personally and professionally.
Searching for books on effective leader- ship and inspiring others led me to a classic of the genre, Simon Sinek’s Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Published in 2009, the book’s references are sometimes dated, but its principles remain relevant. It made me think about the individuals and organizations that might fall into its various classifications, and as I read the book, I became eager to discover my own “why.” The first chapter confirmed my choice. “There is a wonderful story of a group of American car executives who went to Japan to see a Japanese assembly line,” it reads. “At the end of the line, the doors were put on the hinges, the same as in America. But something was missing. In the United States, a line worker would take a rubber mallet and tap the edges of the door to ensure that it fit perfectly. In Japan, that job didn’t exist.
"Confused, the American auto executives asked at what point they made sure the door fit perfectly. Their Japanese guide looked at them and smiled sheepishly. ‘We make sure it fits when we design it.’ In the Japanese auto plant, they didn’t examine the problem and accumulate data to figure out the best solution—they engineered the outcome they wanted from the beginning.”
The mallet is a metaphor for the way in which so many people and organizations operate: Instead of ensuring that all of the pieces fit from the start, they use a mish-mash of solutions to eventually achieve the desired result.
Centered on the Why
Sinek references the “Golden Circle” throughout the book. This concentric circle contains what you do as the outside band, how you do what you do in the middle ring, and why you do it at its center. Most leaders and organizations tend to think, act, or communicate from the outside of the circle inward, going from what to why.
The Japanese automaker understood the importance of going from the inside out, from why to what. Its why was clear from design through assembly, and this decision was reflected in the quality of the product. Consumers recognized the difference: Sales of Japanese cars exceeded those of American car manufacturers in the United States for many years.
Before I could articulate the why of my association, I had to form a clear picture of it. I can easily explain what my association does and how we do it, but the why needs to be readily apparent to members and others.
Why we do what we do shows through in the charisma of leaders within the association. This belief in its purpose must be shared by the leaders and reflected consistently in the actions of the association as a whole for others to see. Keeping the Golden Circle in balance creates a culture of loyalty and trust within an organization and a clear sense of purpose for all.
Getting lost in the semantics of what we do and how we do it creates a fuzzier vision. “Leaders don’t have all the great ideas; they provide support for those who want to contribute,” Sinek writes in Start With Why. “Leaders achieve very little by themselves; they inspire people to come together for the good of the group. Leaders inspire action.”
This book is a great reference for leaders and staff wanting to bring clarity to an association’s why through strategic planning, and it may help inspire members to take part in demonstrating what the association does for the community and how it does it. An association’s value becomes apparent when the why is evident in everything it does.