Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

A couple of months ago I finished reading the book “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” by Simon Sinek. Simon’s presentation at TED in 2009 was viewed more than 41 million times. He was invited to consult on Leadership for Microsoft and the United Nations.

SWW-Cover-High-Res

I would like to share with you a few observations and thoughts after reading the book.

Manipulation vs Inspiration

Both manipulation and inspiration are methods of making someone take action. Manipulation creates short term result. For example, if a company decides to use manipulation in their sales and marketing approach, like a price reduction, the result will be a temporary increase in sales but it will not build brand loyalty. Try to remember last time when the reduced price of a product made you become loyal to a brand.

On the opposite site of manipulation is the inspiration. Brands that inspire have a loyal group of followers who will always buy a product of said brand. This happens as the followers associate themselves with the values that represent a specific brand.

When it comes to leaders in organizations and companies, those who inspire will benefit from loyal and hard-working employees. So how does one inspire?

The Golden Circle

Simon explains that inspirational leaders and organizations all act and communicate in the same way. He calls that pattern of communication, The Golden Circle.

Golden-Circle

What it means is that communication happens from the inside out, starting with answering the “Why?” question first. Why leaders do what they do and why organizations make what they make. An answer to this simple question communicates the reason for actions, it demonstrates what someone believes in.

People get inspired by others who believe in the same things.

Biological reaction to Why?

As it turns out, humans have a very strong need to feel that they belong. It is one of the most powerful feelings, feeling based on gut. We feel that we would like to belong to a group that shares the same believes as we do as. The feeling of belonging makes us feel safe. We are drawn to organizations and leaders that are good at explaining what they believe in.

The part of the brain responsible for emotions and feelings is called a Limbic Brain. That is not the same part of the brain that is responsible for language. That is why the gut feeling, the feeling of “Just right” is hard to dress in words and explain.

Great organizations are built on the foundations of The Golden Circle and look like a Cone.

GoldenCircle

  • The Why? element of the cone includes the leader who sets the vision.
  • Larger, the How? element of the cone contains the next level of senior executives, inspired by Leader, people who know how to bring the vision to life
  • Finally, the largest part of the organization are the people who bring the vision to life by building the What?

Summary

The book itself is a great, thought-provoking read that I would recommend for anyone. It does explain how and why people are drawn to certain organizations and leaders.

Inspirational organizations and leaders know the answer to the question “why?” and they clearly communicate their beliefs through their actions. Inspiration creates the long-lasting effect of loyal followers or employees.

If you find yourself not having enough time to read the book, have a look at Simon’s TED presentation. It focuses on the core ideas of the book.

Fixing DevOps

I recently posted a one-liner on LinkedIn, that attracted a great deal of interest and thought-provoking discussion.

If I was paid a £1 for every consultancy, company or private contractors who claim to come in and “fix DevOps” for us and then fail, I would be a very rich man 🙂

In light of the comments and queries, I decided to expand on what I mean by Fixing DevOps and failing at it. First, let me start by explaining what was the trigger to write the line.

Devops toolchain

One Cheeky Email

As a Head of Software Engineering I have been targeted  by Sales representatives attempting to sell software products and software development services for quite some time now; a few days ago I received yet another email promising to Fix all the DevOps headaches we might have and change our company to become a DevOps Nirvana if only we would to bring them in.

I have been working in the financial sector for 9 years and witnessed a number of times promises that hardly ever been delivered on. I know that my industry colleagues have had similar experiences.

Thus, the above one-liner shared on LinkedIn, was born.

Some problems of large organizations

Historically, the organization I work for had nothing to do with technology. Banks offered financial services for centuries without the use of Software. Computer systems and software were adopted in the 60ties. The technology was used as an aid to business, means of making money easier and faster. Today banks would not exist without IT systems. There is more virtual money in the economy than tangible assets.

In many large organizations, technology is still looked at as an afterthought, the necessary evil that has to be dealt with in the most cost-effective way possible. Latest advances and innovation are hard to introduce. New technologies and processes are adopted at a much slower pace than technology focused organizations like Google or Amazon.

Large and complex organizations can’t exist without modern technology as well as technology makes no sense without their core business. The truth is, both sides have to work together but in reality, the way organizations are constructed prevents it from happening.

Technology is siloed into one organizational unit and business into another, each with its respective leader. Technology becomes a service organization for business. Local goals emerge, driven by local targets resulting in both organization pulling into different directions and the customer finding little to no improvement.

Let’s reiterate some of the DevOps principles at this point:

  • Focus on delivering value to a user
  • Thinking big picture – End-to-End product delivery, from inception to delivery and beyond
  • Never-ending feedback loop on the product, it’s quality and behavior in production
  • Cross-functional and autonomous teams
  • Ruthless automation of everything

#BuzzWords to the rescue

I observed the following pattern in the history of DevOps adoption with the involvement of technology leaders at different organizational levels.

A Leader hears a ‘buzzword’: DevOps. Next steps are:

  • some research into benefits,
  • multiple visits by DevOps consultancies, referring to case studies within a similar large organization,
  • a consultancy (or few) comes in to perform DevOps assessment,
  • a report is produced with information about organizational challenges,
  • recommendations on how to change and what tools to adopt

Tools become the focus area of proposed improvements as organizational changes are too problematic for A Leader. Consultancy begins the new engagement, ramping up resources and bringing in new tools. The process of “fixing the DevOps” in the organization starts.

A Leader chooses a small area of Organization to roll out new approached and tools. Neither the consultancy nor small area of Organization has enough remit nor possibility to influence any organizational changes, resulting in: consultancies automating a few basic processes, leaving behind a large backlog of future/unfinished work and a hefty bill.

Small, local improvements make little impact in the large organization. The experiment is deemed as a failure and adoption stops (until next Leader arrives or a good sales strategy from different consultancy).

Summary

Many DevOps consultancies are selling The Dream, utilizing template case studies based on the size of targeted organizations, rather than being tailored to individual requirements of said organizations. Challenges posed by organization structure in DevOps adoption are overlooked during sales negotiations. Resulting engagement creates an invalid perception of DevOps as not being fit for purpose, causing more damage than good.

The truth is that for any change to be successful, creating long-lasting effect the initiative has to come out from within, driven by ‘outside the box’ approach.