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What is Simon Sinek's comparison of most leaders versus those who actually lead, and what is an example of how his theory can apply in a leadership role?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Simon Sinek, a professor of postgraduate strategic communications at Columbia University, compares most leaders as having a what-how thinking approach that utilizes outer neocortex brain function while those who actually lead have a why-what-how thinking approach that utilizes inner lymbic brain function.

This is described in Sinek's Golden Circle illustration in which the two outer circles are the What (what you produce, manufacture, do) and the How (how what you do is better, unique etc) components of leadership. The inner circle is the Why (why you do; what you believe about what you do) component of leadership.

Sinek's model says that leaders we've never heard of communicate What and How hoping to convince consumers by these principles that are built on reason and language. The neocortex is the seat of language, rational and analytical thought.

His model says that leaders who are famous for actually having led and of whom we all have heard--his favorite examples being apple Computer, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Orville and Wilbur Wright--communicate Why (then How and What) to share a common feeling, a common belief, a common drive with the consumer. The lymbic brain is the seat of feeling, motives, decision making and human behavior. More importantly, the lymbic brain has no language function.

When leaders communicate from the lymbic brain through the Why element of leadership communication, then consumers, clients, customers who believe what they believe are convinced by innate force of sympathetic feeling that is then later rationalized through the How and What elements to accord with the vision and participate or buy. One of Sinek's favorite examples of this is King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Sinek emphasizes that King did not write and deliver a "I Have a Plan" How/What speech, but rather a "I Have a Dream" Why speech.

To summarize the meaning of the example, King was therefore leading from within Sinek's Golden Circle codification of this innate leadership communication style that actually leads through belief in why stemming from the most primitive of our brain functions.

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