UACES Facebook 2023 Leadership Lunch and Learn Book Review Series—Start with Why by Cheryl Newberry
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2023 Leadership Lunch and Learn Book Review Series—Start with Why by Cheryl Newberry

by Lisa Davis - February 23, 2023

The February 2023 Leadership Lunch and Learn book review featured Start with Why written by Simon Sinek. Cheryl Newberry, program and personnel development specialist at Oklahoma State University, reviewed the book.

Watch Recording

Golden Circle

In the book, Sinek says his Golden Circle is used to find order and predictability in human behavior. It also can be used as a guide to improve:

Golden Circle from Start with Why book review

  • Leadership
  • Corporate culture
  • Hiring
  • Product development
  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Loyalty to a product or service

Newberry shared how Sinek defines these three parts of the Golden Circle. 

Starting with WHAT: He describes this as the actual product or service provided by a company. It’s the tangible thing that people can either physically hold or touch or use. Examples include:

  • The computer or phone you are looking at now.
  • The shoes you are wearing.
  • Your lunch for today.

The middle ring of the Golden Circle is the HOW: Sinek describes this as the values in action that set us apart from other companies that do the same thing. Other terms companies might use is the differentiating value proposition, the proprietary process, or the unique value proposition. What does the product or service have that is different from other companies that make something similar? 

Can you think of a product or service that you intentionally choose one brand over another? Let’s think briefly about your favorite operating system for computers. Do you prefer an Apple MAC, Microsoft Windows, Google Android, etc.? Those preferences identify how products/services are different and perhaps features we like about them. That’s the HOW. 

Lastly, the WHY: Few companies clearly articulate their purpose, cause or belief clearly so that customers grasp that information and either agree or disagree with the why. Making money isn’t a WHY statement, it’s a result of the what, how, and why. Most companies can clearly define what and how they do things but have an unclear WHY for their foundation of existence. Companies who can clearly define the why provide a connection for customers to get behind and everything they do is founded in that WHY. 

Golden Circle with What, How, and Why descriptions

Hear from Simon Sinek

Watch this video clip from TedTalk with Simon Sinek explaining the Golden Circle.

Sinek noted that most companies lead from the outside in, and most of the time never clearly define their why. They lose customers or momentum when they don’t have a clear vision for what they stand for. 

Great companies lead from the inside out, clearly defining their WHY and then their how and what. There is no question as to why they exist and what their intentions are. 

Newberry said, “I love the example that Sinek uses in the video with Apple.”

Sinek continually drives home the fact that customers don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. 

Newberry shared some of the things she found on Apple’s website that lend themselves to their WHY statement. If you scroll to the very bottom of their page, you’ll find a list of topics under the Apple Values section. Things like accessibility, education, environment, inclusion and diversity, just to name a few. This photo and statement are on the education page. 

Apple website information

The message clearly defines their WHY for their values on education – Greater access to education gives everyone more ways to realize their potential.  

If you continue to scroll on that page, there are stories of how they are achieving this in their company. 

Inspiration and Manipulation

Sinek talks about two ways to influence human behavior which is also attracting customers – this is done through inspiration or manipulation. Most businesses us manipulation in some shape or form whether that be in pricing, promotions, using fear, aspirations, peer pressure or novelty.  He notes that regardless of the type of manipulation, these are short-term solutions and often lead to cycles of repeated manipulations and this impacts long-term profitability. 

When we focus on influencing human behavior through inspiration, we are more closely connected to a strong WHY statement that appeals to a specific part of our brain. 

This is a list of verbs that I received when I went through the online course “Start with Why.”  This list is a great help when you are trying to clearly define the HOW once you determine the WHY. 

List of verbs
Of these terms you see,  Which ones would you use to characterize your organization.

Newberry discussed some other high points from the book include:


Trust begins to emerge when we see that people and organizations are driven by reason that go beyond the self-serving. When it is evident that the why, how and, what are consistent, trust can be built. Trust is a FEELING, not a rational experience. 

Sinek uses the example of Continental Airlines. In the 1980s they were the worst airline in the industry. They brought in a new CEO in 1994 named Gordon Bethune. He changed the culture of the company from the executive offices on the 20th floor being off limits to employees to an open-door policy. He also asked 40 of the top 60 executives to leave because they were unwilling to get on board with the new direction Bethune was headed.

Everything Bethune talked about was in terms of how it benefited the employees. Bethune wasn’t afraid to get in the trenches and load bags, work the ticket counter or other jobs so he could get to know the employees and understand their jobs. He incentivized “on time flights” for all employees by instating a policy that for each month Continental ranked in the top five of on time arrivals, each employee would receive a $65 bonus – a separate check, not added to their paycheck. That’s a $2.5 million investment in employees compared to a cost of $5 million in costs when flights were late and the company had to put up passengers overnight. Bethune stated “we measured things the employees could truly control. We made the stakes something the employees would win or lose on together, not separately.” 

In the book, Sinek also talked about how WHY and hiring are important. The goal should be to hire people who are passionate about the WHY of the company. They believe in the purpose, cause or belief and fit into the culture. He noted that great companies do not hire skilled people and motivate them. They hire already motivated people and inspire them. Inspired employees are more productive and innovative, eager to do the work. 

Visionary Leaders and Realists

Sinek also notes that companies need both visionary leaders and realists in order for the WHY and the HOW to come together. The WHY is the CEO who is typically the visionary leader. They come up with the big ideas, have an overactive imagination. They tend to be optimists and rely on others to bring their big ideas to life.

The realists are the executives under the CEO who develop the HOW or the products and services that are in line with the WHY.  They tend to focus on building better structures and processes and get things done. 

Both are very important in a company – they bring balance to the golden circle and hold each other accountable. 


The Leadership Lunch and Learn book review series features leadership experts from across the south. Each presenter reviews a leadership development book. The series gives you the opportunity to hear the cliff notes version of many popular leadership development books. Join us for future book reviews.

  • March 29, 2023 – Dare to Lead | Brandi Berven, Extension Specialist – Staff Development, University of Tennessee 

Register Here


List of verbs in image above:

Accelerate, Accomplish, Achieve, Act, Advance, Amplify, Assist, Boost, Brighten, Build, Care, Catalyze, Connect, Construct, Create, Cultivate, Defend, Deliver, Develop, Design, Dream, Drive, Educate, Empower, Encourage, Enhance, Ensure, Establish, Execute, Expand, Facilitate, Foster, Fulfill, Gather, Generate, Guide, Help, Illuminate, Illustrate, Imagine, Implement, Improve, Incorporate, Increase, Influence, Inform, Innovate, Inspire, Integrate, Invent, Lead, Lift, Listen, Love, Maximize, Mobilize, Motivate, Nurture, Open, Perform, Prioritize, Promote, Protect, Provide, Raise, Reach, Save, Serve, Simplify, Solve, Streamline, Strengthen, Supply, Support, Train, Transform, Unite, and Validate.