Why I think Simon Sinek got it wrong

Why I think Simon Sinek got it wrong

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Why I think Simon Sinek got it wrong

Simon Sinek
Did he get it wrong? Yes and No!

The power of purpose, the power of why is fundamental to our legacy, our leadership and our day to day living. Those that have it are driven, have a pull that creates its own powerful momentum and almost creates a life of its own. I mean, all we need to do is reflect on something that means so much to us and we all know what I mean.

When considering sustainability, Simon Sinek created a message and a movement with his Golden Circles. The what, the how and the power of why.

However, I believe these three Golden Circles are missing something fundamental – the real catalyst for change and sustainability, The ChangeMaker Circle.

For many of us, the space we play in begins with the outer circles where gaining clarity around the task at hand is key. The outer circle is the ‘what’ – the KPI’s, the numbers, the metrics. It’s where we set goals and visions and get really clear on our outcomes. It’s where we set our compass and start on the journey heading for our True North.

Next, we get clarity on ‘how’ we get there. We brainstorm, we do trainings, we read and research and get all the left brain stuff happening. We do our reports, our to-do lists, our call plans and we stick with the processes as best we can.

And that’s when many people stall, and even stop, in their quest to succeed. They get so het up on methodologies and structures and the right things to say and do, but they never quite seem to figure it out completely, and many times fail to act. It’s why sellers learn what to do but many never implement, execute, follow up or complete. Why is that?

As Sinek so eloquently phrases it, they don’t have their purpose – their powerful ‘why’.

He is right.

Many people can’t shift their own status quo, let alone their buyers. The main chokehold is their fear of change, regardless of how big their ‘why’ is. We’ve all been there. We have all had a powerful purpose to create change in and around us, and yet something has stopped us in our tracks, even though our intention was so purposeful and profitable.

So what prevents real success?

Recently I sat in a boardroom with a respected sales director and we discussed his team’s performance and lack of performance, and what needed to change. We talked KPI’s and milestones, tactics and strategies and as the conversation got deeper, he proudly and passionately pointed to a framed print on the wall showing his company’s powerful ‘corporate why’, defined in one short, succinct sentence. It was certainly crystal clear and compelling, but the conversation stopped.

It was almost as though they had now ticked all the boxes and based on this purposeful message, they would set the world on fire. They weren’t so I asked him some tough questions:

* Who do your team need to become individually, to collectively live that ‘why’?

* Who are the customers you have who will appreciate that particular ‘why’?

* Who are your customers buying in this Connection Economy – your people or the competition?’


The importance of understanding and executing the ‘who’ is not just limited to the world of sellers. Award winning actress, Reece Witherspoon, on addressing her fear of speaking in front of an audience (acting on screen apparently is totally different than speaking in front of a live audience) shared, “Because of this experience, I know that if I want to do things that matter, I need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I worked through my fear because I put myself in a difficult situation over and over again until my anxiety subsided.” Whilst she had her powerful ‘why,’ she needed to address a deeper level to truly succeed. That level was ‘who’ she needed to become to achieve her dream.

Sinek’s famous phrase, ‘People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it’ may be very true in business, but to share that ‘why’ in a compelling commercial manner, the person sharing it has to have a real level of conviction, the ability to share the message in a commercial and relevant context and they must have an intention to truly contribute to the buyer and their business growth.

They need to own their own value and bring that value to the table for the benefit of all. More importantly, ‘people don’t buy what you do, they buy who they are and who they want to be!’

The Missing Circle

I believe, the WHO is the missing circle in Simon’s Sinek’s Golden Circles model.

The Wright Brothers succeeded in selling their crazy, awesome dream, not just because of their ‘why’ but because they were prepared to be who they needed to be and do what it took to live their ‘why’. Their supportive home life gave them a strong sense of self belief, which in time allowed them to stand up against the theories of more experienced aeronautical experiments. To choose not to marry so they could live their purpose and make the world a more connected place says a lot about who they were and who they were prepared to not be. Their sense of resilience and confidence enabled them to keep on going when they were faced with sceptics, critics and nay-sayers, and their resourcefulness stood them in good stead when failure struck, as it did again and again. It is not dissimilar to the environment sellers and business leaders find themselves in today.

Who you are speaks louder than what you do or why you do it…I would love to know your thoughts.

Be Bold and Brilliant!

Bernadette McClelland - Keynote Speaker

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  • Sam
    Posted at 22:09h, 17 January Reply

    Hi Bernadette,

    Interesting perspective and I agree with your assessment that the ‘who’ also matters. I’m not sure when this article was written, but Simon Sinek had a rebuttal to this argument that the who is summation of the what, the how, and the why. Those three elements together define the ‘who’. Also a compelling argument to me. I’m interesting in hearing you’re perspective to his answer. Interesting discussion nonetheless.


    • admin
      Posted at 23:53h, 30 March Reply

      Thanks Sam and I am trying to process that thought as I am tending to disagree with it. I can’t quite see how ‘who’ we show up as and ‘who’ we are at our core can be a combination of external elements. I will definitely continue to give it some more thought. Really appreciate you posting and thanks for your support. Cheers

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