Wednesday, April 1, 2015

3 key points from Simon Sinek's Start With Why; Leadership with Clear Purpose

As I'm writing this, I'm currently doing preparations for speech number 4 in my competent communication manual for toastmasters. While going through the books I read on leadership and online resources that I can find, I thought I might as well put them together in a blog post for the reader's benefit. One thing that I must clarify is that none of the content in my blog post is my personal opinion or something that I made up myself, acknowledging that I have no credibility in this topic. This post is solely based on advices that can be found online and mainly from Simon Sinek's best-selling book Start With Why .

"Management is about doing it right, leadership is about doing the right thing." -Peter Drucker & Warren Bennis

Key points from the book.

Leadership and management are two different things. Management is about the bottom-line; How can I best accomplish certain things? Whereas leadership deals with the top line; What are the things I want to accomplish? Or in other words, management is about the efficiency in climbing the ladder whereas leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning on the right wall. There's only one thing that leaders have, and that is followers, not Instagram followers ( because I don't have that many :P), but followers as in people who volunteer to go where you want to go.

Generally, there are two ways to gain followers. The first is manipulation, or the carrot and stick method. In business, there are a number of ways to manipulate customers to buy your products, including by playing the price game, promotions by incentives, instilling fear, aspirations, and even novelty. Lets take novelty as an example, in 1970s, Colgate only had two different products. And when competitions came in, they felt the need to "innovate", and now they have about 32 different types of toothpaste for 1 brand. It worked in short term, but sales never maintained or raise in the long term. The problem is, their competitors do the same as well, and now they are trying to differnetiate themselves, which is probably going to repeat the same cycle.

Manipulation leads to transaction, not loyalty. When you lose your kitten and offer a reward to get it back; you don't need to have long lasting relationship with the person returning it. Police incentivise by giving rewards to those who help with giving evidence that will lead to an arrest. And like any promotion, manipulation works if the incentives are high enough to mitigate the risks. While manipulations may be a viable strategy when times are good, a change in market conditions will make them very expensive. The American car industry learned this the hard way, when they had to rely on the high cost of manipulation when what they actually need is loyal customers to nurture.

In contrast, Southwest Airlines received tremendous support from their customers following the struggle after September 11 because of the company's emphasis on high class customer experience by sending checks. One note that accompanied check for $1000 read, "You've been so good to me over the years, in these hard times I wanted to say thank you by helping you out." Although the checks that Southwest Airlines received may not be enough to make any significant impact on the company's bottom line, they were symbolic of the feeling customers had for the brand- They had a sense of partnership. In short, using manipulations to gain followers is synonymous to using steroids to gain more muscles; you'll gain very quickly in the short-term, but you will suffer heavy consequences after a certain period of time.

The reality is, in today's world, manipulations are the norm. But there is an alternative.

There are few leaders who choose to inspire than manipulate, and every single of these inspiring leaders thinks, acts and communicates exactly the same way. Consciously or not, they followed a naturally occurring pattern that is called The Golden Circle, which is inspired by the golden ratio- a mathematical relationship for proportion and even beauty, supporting the idea that there is more order in nature than we think. (symmetry of leaves, geometric perfection of snowflakes)

1. The Golden Circle Before we can explore its applications, lets define these terms starting from outside of the circle and moving inward.

WHAT: Every single company know what they do, they know what services they provide and they know what products thy sell.

HOW: Some companies and people know how they do it, they know how to explain how they are different or better, or they know their "differentiating value proposition", "proprietary process", or "unique selling proposition".

WHY: BUT very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do.(money is out of the question since profits are results, not the main reason why a company should exist.)  Its the question of what is your purpose, cause or belief? Why do you get out of bed every morning?

In the computer industry, Apple has the same access to the same number of talent, and other big companies like Dell or HP have brilliant engineers like Apple. They also have the capability to design great computers, mp3 players etc. But what makes Apple have stand out?

Lets look at how a typical computer company do their marketing message:

We make great computers. (What)
They're beautifully design, simple to use and user-friendly. (How)
Wanna buy one?
..... not so compelling.

Now, lets look at how Apple Inc. communicate:

Everything  we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.
The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly.
And we happen to make great computers.
Wanna buy one?

The products are still the same, but the message feels completely different. There's no trickery, no manipulation, no free stuff and no aspirational messages. Apple doesn't simply reverse the order of information, they start by clarifying the question why, why the company existed in the first place, which is to challenge the status quo.
Apple's Think Different Campaign

It is no wonder that we are comfortable buying phones and mp3s from Apple, but not from Dell or Microsoft, (they actually did have mp3 players in their production line) because Apple manage to communicate their why clearly. When the Golden Circle (why, how and what) are aligned, the message will be authentic, and it will be able to stand out.

2. This is biology, not opinion

The principles of The Golden Circle are much more than a communications hierarchy. Its principles are deeply grounded in the evolution of human behaviour. The power of WHY is not opinion. It's biology. If you look at a cross section of the human brain, from the top down, you see that levels of The Golden Circle correspond precisely with the three major levels of the brain.

The neocortex, or the rational brain, corresponds with the WHAT level. The neocortex brain is responsible for rational and analytical thought. Whereas the middle two sections comprise the limbic brain. The limbic brain is responsible for all of our feelings, such as trust and loyalty. It is also responsible for all human behaviour and all our decision making, but it has no capacity for language.

Humans are irrational. We are more inclined to act based on our emotions than reasoning. This is what we mean when we talk about wining hearts and minds. The heart represents the limbic, feeling part of the brain, and the mind is the rational, language centre.

3. The tipping point.

According to the Law of Diffusion, mass-market success can only be achieved after you penetrate between 15% to 18% of the market. That's because the early majority won't try something new until someone else has tried it first.

Especially when you are going from zero to one (innovating with a new product/service), the goal of business then should not be simply sell to anyone who wants what you have- the majority- but rather to find people who the people who believe what you believe, the left side of the bell curve. It is the percentage of people who share your beliefs and want to incorporate your ideas for themselves. They look to WHAT you do as a tangible element that demonstrates their own purpose, cause or belief to the outside world.

SummaryMartin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Steve Jobs, Professor Yunus and many other great leaders inspire others by showing their convictions on their beliefs, by having a clear action plan and by starting with why.

This book made me think a lot about the significance of having a clear belief and communicate as well as remind about your organisation's belief to those around you. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it because once you have or attain the same values or principle, the people in your organisation//community//society will have a sense of belonging and it is one of the factors that can help them perform better in their tasks.

Personally, I want to close the gap between the rich and the poor through education, because I firmly believe that education is the key factor for those who want to advance further in their career. There's a study that shows those who are well-off and performed badly are more likely to pursue their university qualifications than those who are poor but excel in their studies. Yes, it is true that the lucky ones have their parents' support and there is nothing wrong with that, because I strongly feel that the world is not a zero-sum game. To me, the deciding factors are our ability to learn both hard skills (mathematics, writing, reading)  and soft skills (communication, leadership, especially listening) which is the reason why I decided to continue blogging and share as much as I can from a selection of books that I have read.

My dad always remind me that there are two ways to achieve happiness; purpose and pleasure. I hope this blog post will help you to find your purpose.

Leadership is not a process of invention, it is the process of discovery. :)

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Saturday, January 3, 2015

Leadership & Public Speaking. Introverts & Extroverts


"You can learn how to be bitchy, but you don't really have to be a bitch."
In other words, you can act like an extrovert, but you don't really have to be one. (and vice versa)

Public speaking and networking or people skills have high importance and becomes more salient when we progress from school to work. A few examples include job interviews or even scholarship interviews, where in some cases the interviewers will look for those with good "people skills" as in how well they voice out their opinions and how they disagree with others without being too aggressive. A common misconception is that some people tend to believe that public speaking are for those with extravert characteristics, and settle with a delusional belief that some people are just born with the ability to speak well in public. However, there are a number of introverts who have capabilities in networking and public speaking, such as Abraham Lincoln, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Besides, not all extroverts are necessarily good at it naturally. The truth is, you can change your behaviour, not your character; you can overcome your shyness, but you can't change your introvert characteristics. So, the question is, how can introverts (or anyone who's interested- extroverts or introverts) acquire these skills? 

There are only two ways and there is no shortcut to this.
(1) learn
(2) practice

1. Learning
I learned public speaking while I was in the marching band (unexpectedly). Back in 2010, I was appointed as the Drum Major because there were no other candidates left and I had to take the job. Being introverted, I was more used to spending my time with smaller groups and I was very uncomfortable with the fact that I had to lead a group of 80 band members. I was very horrible, even infront of my own juniors because I stammered and mispronounced words a lot to the extent that my juniors made fun of me from behind- and it was very embarassing since I know I have to face this for many more months as the Drum Major.

So, I had no choice but to push myself out of my comfort zone in order to improve my speaking as well as leadership skills. Question is, how? I didn't like to read any books because there were too many words and I rather spend my time on playing video games. One day, I followed my dad to a bookstore and I scanned through the books under the non-fiction section. I realised that many of these books are practical advises to help us to grow, and I felt like these books might be relevant for me. I purchased a book called Influencer by Kerry Patterson, read it but didn't understand half of it because it was very "wordy". Nevertheless, there's a slow progress because I start to pick up these concepts and I continued to read more books.

As I progressed, reading slowly becomes a habit, not because I was so disciplined (if you know me well, I'm a very lazy bum) but because I felt like I'm growing//learning a lot from it. Here's a list of recommended books  that are related to leadership skills and public speaking that helped me a lot (including the book, Influencer that I mention above)

How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
The Art of Public Speaking by Dale Carnegie (at least read this one!)
Drive by Daniel H. Pink
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Start with Why by Simon Sinek

band days ~

2. Practice 
Like any other skills that you learn such as music or maths, we all need to have some practice. There are a lot of platform out there where we can improve our public speaking skills. If you are still in school, join a debate team, Model United Nations (MUN) or a public speaking competition. If not, find out about your local toastsmasters club. Toastmasters club aim to help those who want to improve their public speaking in a very friendly environment, so I highly recommend it as it is certainly worth the investment. Not enough time to join these societies? Then go online, there are actually FREE classes for public speaking online, all you have to do is look. One website that I would suggest you to go is this Although the lecturer won't be able to give you direct feedbacks, there's always peer-based assessment where you can join a facebook group and ask them to give you feedbacks, or just ask your friends to help you. If you want to practise anytime anywhere, try start a conversation with a stranger.

Back to focusing on the introvert and extrovert subject...

"There is no correlation between the best speaker and those with the best ideas." - Susan Cain, author of Quiet.

Energy excites, charisma inspires.
RAHHH!!! With a roar, Steve Ballmer, the man who replaced Bill Gates as CEO of Microsoft, bursts onto the stage of the company's annual global summit meeting. Ballmer loves Microsoft- he says so in no uncertain words. He also knows how to pump up a crowd. His energy is almost folkloric. He pumps his fists and runs from one end of the stage to the other, he screams and he sweats. He is remarkable to watch and the crowd loves it. As Ballmer proves, without any doubt, energy can motivate a crowd. But can it inspire a population? What happens  the next day or the next week when Ballmer's energy is not therer to otivate his employees? Is energy enough to keep a company of about 80,000 people focused?

In contrast, Bill Gates is introverted and awkward, a social misfit. He does not fit the stereotype of the leader of a multibillion-dollar corporation. He is not the most energetic public speaker. When Bill Gates speak, however, people listen with bated breath. When he speaks, he doesn't rally a room, he inspires it. Those who hear him take what he says and carry his words with them for weeks, months or years. And that is an exemplary of a good leadership.

What makes a great leader?In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins defines what he calls "level 5" leaders, as those with strong professional will and genuine personal humility. Leadership isn't just about giving instructions or telling others what to do, its also about listening to those around you. To those who are more extraverted, learn to listen. To those who are introverted, learn to speak up.

For my next post, I will write about the golden circle of why inspired by Simon Sinek. Since I will be having exams, it would be most likely that I will post after the exams which is at the end of this month. But nevertheless, do subscribe to my blog for more! :)

Thanks for your time to read.

 (ps. Carl Jung clarified that there is no such thing as absolute introvert and absolute extrovert. There's a range of spectrum to these traits, meaning that some people can be mostly introverted and a bit extroverted)