Start with Easy Answers | Leadership Without Why

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Those musical mash-ups that were so much a part of the Glee series really drew me in. I loved their song blending, especially when the songs were not so well known. One of my favorites was the “Jagged Little Tapestry” (You Learn/You’ve got a Friend), though, admittedly, both of those songs are very well known! (That mash-up* was one of the last and just happened to be the one that came to my mind first.)

Observant you! You’ve noticed this post’s title is a mash-up of Simon Sinek’s Start With Why and Ronald Heifetz’s Leadership without Easy Answers. Though I have a stack of new reads to get to, I found myself re-reading these back-to-back recently.

Both authors endeavor to explain why we do the things we do, or don’t do. Their books present approaches to leadership, change-making, and leading with purpose in life and in organizations.

Sinek posits that a lot of people and teams know “how” and “what” they do what they do, but few know “why” they do what they do. (He notes that politicians, however, must never hesitate to answer, when asked). Connecting to one’s purpose for work, especially if it “feels” right (limbic brain) can lead to a more fulfilled life.

Ability to critically observe one’s interactions in their contexts, discern their meaning, and adjust accordingly, is vital among change-agents, so argues Heifetz in his seminal bookPitfalls abound. Such a leader must not only cultivate keen perception to spot them, but be nimble and adroit in their ability to perceive conditions from multiple perspectives, often at once, and react effectively, masterfully. It’s a survival skill.

Synthesizing two books is a thought-provoking exercise and I highly recommend it! But, don’t mistake “synthesis” for “deep literary analysis”.

The books were published in 1994 (Heifetz) and 2009 (Sinek). ^

Sinek’s book takes a populist approach. “Hey! if you just stop to think about how your actions, thinking, and words are all connected, why, you can live a life that’s full of purpose!” 

Heifetz’s approach is analytical, and detached. “Take yourself out of yourself and observe everything you think, say, and do and within the context of the situation you find yourself.”

Sinek is for individuals, teams, and organizations. Populism and a systemic approach are keys to personal and organizational change. So is, paradoxically, internal altruism. 

Heifetz specifically targets change-agents. Not every leader is a change-agent and every change-agent isn’t as effective as they could be. A crisis in leadership stems as much as from our demands and expectations as from any leader’s inability to meet them.

Start With Easy Answers | Leadership Without Why are merely jumping off points. Change-making is challenging work. A leader must know and understand the truth about themselves, or the organization, and how they, or it, are/is prone to view themselves and their work, or mission. Every situation is a particular context for understanding motivation, values, and political acuity. What is critical for success is seldom easy or simple. There are many ways, though. A process for discovering and staying “true” to one’s purpose, as well as astute, politically, are key attributes.


Image credit: Simon Sinek, the  Golden  Circle

*In college, my good friend Celeste really got this going in an epic way. She began with singing the first line of “Around the World in 80 Days”, and then found a word to pivot to connect to another line from another song:

Around the World in 80 Days of Wine and Roses for a Blue Lady are you Crying do the Tears of a Clown Be a Clown all the world Love is a Many Splendored [Some]thing in the way she moves attracts me like Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve done a lot god knows I’ve tried to even now when I’m So Far Away doesn’t anybody Stay Just a Little bit Longer oh won’t you Come Home Bill Bailey won’t you come Home I wish I was back there…

^ Oh hey! 1994 was when we moved to Lexington and 2009 is when our eldest graduated from high school. Some other stuff that happened in 1994:

  • Tonya Harding wins the national Figure Skating championship title but is stripped of her title following an attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan.
  • Intermittent Civil War in Rwanda between Majority Hutus and minority Tutsis after assassination of President estimates of 1/2 million people killed in civil wars.
  • ANC triumphs in first Multiracial elections and on May 10th Nelson Mandella becomes president of South Africa.
  • Average cost of a new house: $119,050
  • Average income per year: $37,070
  • Cost of a gallon of gas: $1.09
  • Movie ticket: $4.08
  • Average cost of a new car: $12,350
  • Loaf of bread: $1.59
  • Dozen eggs: 86 cents

in 2009:

  • Barack Obama (“hope & change”) is inaugurated and first African-American President.
  • Slumdog Millionaire takes top prizes at the Oscars.
  • GM declares bankruptcy & federal government bails them out.
  • A record one billion people around the world do not have enough to eat according to UN food agency.
  • Michael Jackson died.
  • Senator Ted Kennedy dies of brain cancer at age 77.
  • Rio de Janeiro chosen to host 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
  • Barack Obama awarded Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Sweeping healthcare bill passes the Senate.
  • Average cost of a new house: $232,880 
  • Average income per year: $39,423
  • Cost of a gallon of gas: $2.73 
  • Movie ticket: $7.50
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