Strategic Comms Part 43 Use the Golden Circle to Inspire Action

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(This is the 43rd in a continuing series on strategic communications. Click here for earlier segments)

By Owen Eagan, The Saint Consulting Group

How do great leaders inspire action?  According to Simon Sinek, it all begins with “why.”  Sinek, the author of Start with Why, developed a simple model to describe how great leaders think, act and communicate called the Golden Circle (see Exhibit 1 below).

What is defined by what your company does, how is defined by your differentiating value proposition, and why is defined by your purpose, cause or belief.  Sinek found that most people communicate from the outside in, first explaining what they do and how they do it.  However, great leaders and organizations communicate from the inside out.  That is, he claims that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

For instance, Apple doesn’t sell its products by solely pitching their features and benefits and telling you how they’re different.  They first pitch them by telling people their why, which is to empower the individual and change the status quo.  In fact, it is because of their why that people will buy not just computers from Apple but iPhones and iPods, etc.  That’s why their groundbreaking ad from 1984 – the first “Super Bowl commercial” directed by Ridley Scott – is so powerful and still relevant today (see

Further, Sinek states that the Golden Circle is reinforced by biology and the way we think.  Specifically, he says that the structure of the brain maps perfectly to the circle.  The neocortex, which controls rational and analytical thought and language, corresponds to the what level.  The limbric brain, which controls all of our feelings along with all human behavior and decision-making, corresponds to the how and the why levels.  However, the limbric brain has no capacity for language.  Therefore, when we communicate from the outside in, we can comprehend facts and figures but it doesn’t drive behavior.  Conversely, when we communicate from the inside out, we appeal to the part of the brain that drives behavior and subsequently people rationalize their decision-making.

So what does this mean for developers?  It means that why – your purpose, cause or belief – has to be communicated in everything you say and do.  And it must be practiced with clarity, discipline and consistency.  But what if you can’t identify your why?  As Sinek says, why doesn’t come from looking forward to what you want to achieve and figuring out a strategy to get there.  It comes from looking back to the origins of your passion and the desire to do something bigger than yourself.  Practicing that will surely inspire everyone around you.

Mike Saint, the founder of our company, says that our why stems from our belief that governmental permissions affecting business, especially requests to use local land for specific corporate purposes, are inherently political (see What We Do at Saint Consulting and Why We Do It:  It is that belief that has attracted those who believe what we believe.  And winning on behalf of our clients is what inspires us.

Owen Eagan is a Senior Consultant for Saint Consulting, an international management consulting firm specializing in land use politics.  He is also an adjunct faculty member at Emerson College, the nation’s only four-year institution dedicated exclusively to communication and the performing arts. Email


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