Leadership Inspires Loyalty

Steve-Jobs-Inspiring-OthersWhat inspires loyalty in a person?  What makes us root for the US Olympians and cheer for “the gold” in each and every event?  There are typically two options we have in trying to influence behavior: Manipulation and Inspiration.

Many of the choices we make are motivated by fear, shiny objects and such, but only loyalty comes from being inspired. When your WHY is clear and people believe what you believe, true loyalty is the fruit of shared vision. “…(W)hen a company clearly communicates their WHY, what they believe, and we believe what they believe, then we will sometimes to go extraordinary lengths to include those products or brands in our lives.” (p. 53)

Is It a Cathedral or Just a Wall?

In Part I to this series , I gave an overview of the key points of Simon Sinek’s Book, Start With Why. The core concept of Sinek’s book is about The Golden Circle and the idea that truly successful leaders start with why to inspire others and develop their ideas from the inside out—from why to how to what.  

Sinek tells the story of two stonemasons who have spent the greater part of their lives prepping and lifting stones into place to build a cathedral that will probably not be finished in their lifetimes. When you question the first stonemason about his work, he talks about the challenges and monotony of returning to the same wall day after day, making painfully incremental progress.

But when you ask the same questions of the second man he is excited about the work he does because he has a vision of the cathedral in his mind and knows why he’s doing what he’s doing. That type of vision breeds inspiration and loyalty. The jobs are the same but the perspectives are entirely different.

Creating Synergy Between Why and How

One of the great examples the author uses in his book to help us understand the symbiotic relationship between WHY and HOW involves Walt Disney and his brother Roy. Walt was the artist who captured the imaginations of children (and adults!) with his animated cartoon stories. But it was Roy Disney, “a brilliant financier and businessman” who founded the Buena Vista Distribution Company, that enabled all Disney films to become that integral part of America’s collective childhood.

The point Sinek is trying to make is that for every great leader or WHY-type, there is an equally inspired HOW-type who has embraced the vision and clearly understands HOW to build the systems and processes that make the vision, cause or belief come to life.

“HOW-types…take the intangible cause and build the infrastructure that can give it life. That infrastructure is what actually makes any measurable change or success possible.” (p. 138)

Building Teams and Finding the Right Fit

A common element among great leaders is their ability to inspire good fits to join their organization—folks who believe what they believe. Once Roald Amundsen became the first to reach the South Pole, the final challenge became crossing the entire continent. The English adventurer, Ernest Shackleton, understood this to be no task for the faint-of-heart. He ran this simple ad in the London Times: “Men wanted for Hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.” Commander Shackleton was looking for survivors!

As it turned out, the captain and his crew never reached the continent of Antarctica. The ship became trapped in miles of ice pack as winter moved in early. The crew watched as ice floes finally crushed Endurance, sinking her on November 21, 1915. An escape by lifeboats brought them to Elephant Island. From there Shackleton set out with only five crewmembers to find help, which they ultimately did.

Despite the fact that their mission was never completed, there are several successful elements to the story’s conclusion. There was no mutiny, no stories of cannibalism and they all made it home alive. When you hire those who are passionate for your WHY, employees trust your guiding principles, leaving your organization able to work to its natural gifts and strengths.

We’re All in This Together

Convincing others that you have their best interests at heart is no small task. That’s because loyalty, a truly emotional value, exists in the mind of your employees or members.

When your WHY and their WHY correspond, they will see your vision or services as tangible ways to demonstrate what they believe. (p. 74)

 Fortunately for Continental, Gordon Bethune understood this when he became CEO in 1994. Earlier that year the company had lost $600 million in revenues and “ranked last in every measurable performance category….(But) the very next year Continental made $250 million and was soon ranked as one of the best companies to work for in America.” (p. 84) How did he do that?

Bethune realized that he needed to inspire Continental employees to believe they could turn the airline around. Before Bethune arrived the company struggled with trust issues—executive suites were locked, key cards were required to get onto the executive floor and security cameras were to be found everywhere. Bethune got rid of security on the executive level and initiated an open-door policy.

The question became how to make changes that would create a win-win? Their focus became getting their planes to run on time. A policy was adopted where very employee received a $65-check each month that Continental’s on-time average ranked in the top-five industry-wide. Everyone got their $65 when the airline did well and no one got it when the airline missed targets. Bethune even insisted that a separate check be sent out because he wanted the message to be all about contributing to the “win-win.”

The Combination of the Why-How-What

In the book, Sinek keeps repeating this phrase as a mantra, “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it. As important as WHY is to any organization, however, differentiation happens in the combination of WHY and HOW you do it. (p. 73) (And) it is at the WHAT level that authenticity happens. (p. 68)

“For great leaders, the Golden Circle is in balance. They are in pursuit of WHY, they hold themselves accountable to HOW they do it and WHAT they do serves as tangible proof “ of WHY they do what they do. (p. 182)

By turning the two dimensional circle into a three dimensional cone, we create a hierarchy where the leader is at the top, representing the WHY, senior executives represent and know HOW to bring the idea to life and staff execute the WHAT, the tangible rendering of the visionary idea.


Most of us will not be required to lead a million-dollar company or command a team in a life-and-death situation. But we can all inspire others to be true to their WHY. Share with us how it’s going…

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