simon sinek golden circle

Start with why: How to use Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle

Reading time: about 6 min


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If you want to lead other people, you can’t force them to follow you—in the long run, trying to manipulate or compel others causes them to resent you, become apathetic, or just leave. Instead, you’ll get better, more sustainable results if you inspire others to follow because they want to.

The Golden Circle is one framework for leadership. Anyone interested in leading and influencing others can find the Golden Circle helpful. Keep reading to learn more about it and how to use it.

What is the Golden Circle?

In 2009, Simon Sinek gave a TED talk titled “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” In the talk, he explained the concept of the Golden Circle, a tool to help leaders create a strategy for communicating with others in a way that motivates them. The talk has since been viewed over 60 million times on the TED website, and it’s in third place for the most-watched video on the site.

The TED talk is based on Sinek’s book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. In the book, he presents his research into top-performing companies and his theory about the common factor that makes them successful: That they inspire people with a sense of purpose (the “why”) instead of attempting to manipulate.

In this framework, you start with why, then how, then what.

Start with why

When making someone’s acquaintance, you usually ask them what they do for a living—not why they do it. According to Sinek, companies are also focused on what they do, not why they do it, and that can be a problem. 

Sinek’s work theorizes that successful companies and leaders start with the why instead of what and how. In other words, you need to understand and communicate your organization’s purpose before you get into all the details about how to accomplish it. This inspires actions, helps people understand why your organization is valuable, and, in the long run, makes the organization successful.

When you communicate the why, go beyond making money. Think more about your company’s mission statement, the value you provide your customers, and what sets you apart from others in your field. 

For example, if you’re leading a company that creates mattresses, your why isn’t just selling mattresses and making money. It could be giving customers an exceptional night’s rest, or providing quality options to people who can’t afford luxury brands. 

As you consider your why, think about the impact you want to have on the world and put it into words. When you communicate that purpose with others, they can connect with your passion.

If you’re not in the corporate world, you can still use the Golden Circle for other types of leadership. For example, if you’re volunteering as a mentor for youth, think about what impact you’re trying to make on the kids you work with. If you’re working in a political campaign, you must communicate with voters about your candidate’s why.

This also applies to motivating and inspiring yourself—to work towards an achievement, you should first articulate why you’re doing it. 

Communicate the how

After you’ve focused on defining and communicating the why of your organization, you can move on to the how. Defining how you do things means finding the principles that guide your work. 

You may find the how in the company values you’ve already adopted, or you may need to consider how you do business that set you apart from your competition. Returning to our earlier examples, if you manufacture and sell mattresses, your how could be the ways you minimize costs without reducing the quality of the product. If you’re working with people, the how might be your negotiation style—do you focus on winning the best possible deal for yourself and your customers, no matter the cost, or do you prioritize maintaining good relationships with those around you, even if you compromise more? 

If you’re using the Golden Circle in your personal life, think about the values that guide your decisions. When you’re making a choice, what principles will you use to find the best option?

In the end, articulating how you operate will help you achieve your why. 

Describe the what

This is the easy part. After you’ve done the difficult work of communicating your why and how, you can move on to the details: What it is you actually do. 

Returning to our examples, a mattress company’s what will include their products and client services, while a politician’s what will include working on legislation or advocating for their constituents. In your personal life, it describes the functions of your job or the day-to-day work you do.

Every organization knows what they do, but too many only know that much. If you only communicate the what and skip the first two steps, you won’t be able to connect as well with others. While they may intellectually appreciate what you have to offer, they won’t share your passion for your impact or be on board with how you operate. 

Essentially, your customers, employees, or fellows will have more of a surface-level relationship with you and your organization, and you’ll lose opportunities to influence, motivate, and inspire others to action. Your whats need to serve your clearly defined and communicated why.

Using the Golden Circle

When you start with why, you have a better chance of motivating others. This leads to benefits like:

  • Better hiring: You’re more likely to find people who are on board with your mission.
  • Better retention: Your employees will feel more connected with the company and its purpose, which leads to increased loyalty.
  • Increased productivity: When team members understand the purpose of their work, they’re more likely to pitch in and keep the big picture in mind.
  • Better quality work: When team members know how their work impacts others, they’re more motivated to do it well.

If you want to reap these benefits, you must find ways to incorporate the Golden Circle in your organization. Creating value propositions and outlining your organization’s strategy are two ways to do so.

Value propositions

A value proposition is a clear, concise statement that sums up the unique benefits your product or service gives to your customers. When creating yours, use the Golden Circle: First describe why customers need what you offer, then move on to how you differ from competitors, and finally explain the details of your offering itself.


Value proposition canvas example template
Free value proposition canvas example (click to use template)

Strategic planning

When creating and implementing your organization’s strategy, you can follow the Golden Circle method. When creating your strategy, start with why: Outline the impact you’re trying to create and why it matters. Use this to guide the plans you make.

You’ll also need to start with why when communicating with others about your strategy. If your team doesn’t understand why you’re taking a new direction, they may resist the change or be apathetic at best. If you get them on board with your vision for the organization’s purpose, your team will be more likely to pitch in enthusiastically.

strategic planning template with problems to solve, capabilities, actions, goals, and initiatives
Free srategic planning template (click to use template)

If you’re in a leadership position and need to motivate those around you, try following the Golden Circle. Start with why, and see how it inspires those around you.

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About Lucidspark

Lucidspark, a cloud-based virtual whiteboard, is a core component of Lucid Software's Visual Collaboration Suite. This cutting-edge digital canvas brings teams together to brainstorm, collaborate, and consolidate collective thinking into actionable next steps—all in real time. Lucid is proud to serve top businesses around the world, including customers such as Google, GE, and NBC Universal, and 99% of the Fortune 500. Lucid partners with industry leaders, including Google, Atlassian, and Microsoft. Since its founding, Lucid has received numerous awards for its products, business, and workplace culture. For more information, visit

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