I previously reviewed Simon Sinek’s book Leaders Eat Last. As part of a book club at Volleyball England, I listened to the audio book for Start With Why. This is a few years older, and there are some dated references as a result. It’s not something that’s likely to change your takeaways from the book, though.

I’ll admit that Sinek lost me for a while early on. In I think the first chapter he did this little thing where he described the background and history of an individual without saying his name. My immediate thought while listening to it (somewhat distractedly on my commute) was that he was referring to Hitler. Turns out he was, but he said most people think it’s JFK until he says the date (I didn’t even hear the date). Admittedly, that may be more of a me thing. But then, in the same chapter (I think), he talked about the Age of Exploration being triggered by people realizing the world isn’t flat. Nope. Sorry. You lost a chunk of credibility there Simon.

I also felt through the early part of the book that its underpinnings were kind of weak. Sinek used a few high profile examples of companies with visionary leaders. That’s both in terms of those doing great and those whose performance devolved after their founding leader(s) left the company. To me it begged the question of all those companies out there which may not have fallen apart after a change in leadership. Also, the ones that had visionary leadership in their founding that never achieved notable success.

To be fair, Sinek later in the book does link the requirement of Why with How. That’s obviously important. He also says at one point, however, that the organization a visionary leader builds is the How to fulfill their Why. If that’s the case, then for an organization to continue to succeed it must constantly have leadership with the same Why. If not, it will have to adapt to a new Why. Sinek talks a lot about the former. He doesn’t really talk about the latter. And how likely is it that new leadership really has the same Why as the old one? For sure, it’s sometimes the case. Definitely not all the time, though, even if that’s what you’re trying to bring in.

That said, I do think there are some interesting bits in the book, especially in the second half. The requirement to link the Why and the How is one of those elements. So while I wouldn’t put Start With Why near the top of my recommended reading list, I think there’s some value in it.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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