Simon Sinek (@simonsinek) is the author of Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team and Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.

“We are worth more than the work that we do; the work that we do is supposed to reflect who we are and what our worth is.” -Simon Sinek

What We Discuss with Simon Sinek:

  • Why high performers get depressed the more they achieve.
  • Even if you love what you do for a living, it’s only a part of why you do it.
  • The role of trust and how to develop a culture of trust in your life at work and at home.
  • Can we incentivize performance or behavior?
  • Goldman’s Dilemma and how many of us play a real-life version of this shocking thought exercise.
  • And much more…

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Too many of us define our lives by what we do for a living rather than accepting what we do for a living as just a part of an overall purpose that guides our lives — or, as Simon Sinek would call it, a why.

Simon is the author of Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team and Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. He joins us to clarify what this elusive why is and where it can be found. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

Please Scroll down for Full Show Notes and Featured Resources!

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As we’ve discussed on this show recently, uncertainty is not something we should view as an intrusion into our lives, but as something that’s crucial to our lives if we want to grow.

When asked recently why the why he writes about is so important in times of uncertainty, Simon Sinek — author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action and Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team — replied: “Times are always uncertain! Even when you have sustained growth, it’s going to end. Nobody wants their house to burn down, and most houses don’t burn down, but we still have insurance. That’s called uncertainty.”

Simon explains that it’s easy for us to forget about the why — the purpose that drives us — when things are going well enough to have a semblance of certainty. If we’re on a road trip across the country and our goal is to cover 150 miles a day and we make 180, we can get wrapped up in the metrics that seem to spell success and forget about our destination entirely.

“It’s only when there’s a roadblock or you’re struggling or something’s not going right that you start thinking, ‘Why am I on the road in the first place?'” says Simon. “And that’s what why means — it means before you get in the car, you actually have a sense of destination.”

In other words, the why is there to guide us through the entire journey — a journey in which the one thing we can truly count on is uncertainty.

Your Work Is Not Your Why

Simon says one of the biggest mistakes people make in our society is to equate their professions with their sense of self. But work is really only a part of the equation — one facet of how our overall purpose, our why, is expressed.

“Take me for example,” says Simon. “My why is to inspire people to do the things that inspire them so, together, each of us can change our world for the better. Now I can do that in a million ways: I can write a book. I can give a talk. I can give advice to someone. That’s who I am as a friend. That’s who I am as a brother. That’s who I am as a son. It’s who I am. And my opportunity is to find the creative ways in which I can bring who I am and inject life into it.”

Mistaking our work as our why can make us miserable even when, to the eyes of the world, we seem wildly successful. This is why we see so many people at the top of their fields confessing to battles with depression.

Of aspiring athletes polled in the ’70s, over half said they would take a drug that would guarantee them success (from Olympic gold medals to the title of Mr. Universe), but kill them in five years.

“As a little girl, my friend, all she ever wanted to do was be on Broadway,” says Simon. “That was her whole goal…then she made it onto Broadway, and then what’s the next goal? She spent 25 years trying to achieve this one goal, and then what?”

So if we can understand what our why is (and what it definitely isn’t), we can focus on the big picture rather than just the milestones that mark our accomplishments.

Can You Incentivize Performance?

“One of the biggest fallacies about incentivizing performance is you cannot incentivize performance!” says Simon. “It doesn’t exist. You can only incentivize behavior. When we say to people, ‘If you perform, we will give you a bonus,’ what we’re doing is incentivizing a set of behavior that people will stop at nothing to achieve those goals — which sounds good in theory, except when people are doing things that are sometimes illegal, sometimes unethical, and very often destroying the very culture and fabric of the company.”

As it turns out, not many investment bankers call upon Simon to give this speech at their offices.

“During the financial crisis when all the banking CEOs were brought out to testify in front of Congress and the question was asked, ‘Why do you pay such exorbitant salaries?’ They all gave the same party line, which is, ‘We have to pay exorbitant salaries to get the best talent.’ No. If you offer exorbitant salaries, what you get are people who want exorbitant salaries! You don’t get the best talent; you get the people who will stop at nothing to get the most money. Sometimes they’re talented.

“Whereas when you offer people an opportunity to have a profound and positive impact on the world and you give them the freedom to make decisions that could redirect the entire way an economy works — “Oh, and yes, we’ll pay you very well, too” — what you get are people who are driven by the profound desire to have a positive impact on the world and want to reinvent banking and the economy as we know it.”

Someone under these circumstances is far more likely to see the job as an extension of their why rather than their entire reason for existing.

The Role of Trust

Simon points out that he wrote his first book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, for leaders. Then again, he defines leadership more broadly than some.

“If you want to individually lead — and that can come in any form — you can be a leader in the family, you can be a leader in your community,” says Simon. “And good leadership is not about being in charge, it’s about taking care of those in your charge…so a good parent is a leader. A good friend is a leader. And sometimes they have rank and sometimes they don’t, but what rank affords them is the ability to lead at greater scale.”

In order to be an effective leader, the people in our charge need to trust us. And what builds that trust can vary by circumstances, but at its core is authenticity: that you say and do the things that you actually believe.

“When we seek to trust others, and we want others to trust us, we have to act first — somebody has to go first, and it’s the leader who takes the risk to trust first. I’ve never in my life heard a great leader say, ‘Give me a reason why I should trust you.’ They simply bestow trust. I’ve never in my life heard a great leader that says to me, ‘Prove why I should give you more responsibility.’ They assess someone’s skills and talents and abilities and potential and take the risk to give them more responsibility.”

While it sometimes works out and sometimes it doesn’t, Simon considers any relationship — whether personal or business — a dance that starts slowly. Each side gives a little more until each can let their guard down as trust is established and grows.

He adds that there’s also something to be said for a leader who recognizes that certain perks are rewarded to their rank and not them, personally. But when we’re that leader, sometimes it takes the people around us — the people we trust and who trust us — to share the memo.

THANKS, SIMON SINEK!

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Resources from This Episode:

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