Start With Why By Simon Sinek

Why did we start doing what we are doing in the first place? Often times when a company becomes successful, its leaders start to focus on what they are doing as opposed to why they founded the company in the first place. Although focusing on what you are doing can get you far, it is having a clear sense of why you are doing things that make people connect with you and support you.

Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek explains how great leaders are able to propel their organizations to excel by starting with why. Simon demonstrates how organizations with a clear sense of why are able to have great brand loyalty whereas organizations with a fuzzy sense of why eventually lose their competitive edge.

Even though Start With Why contains less than 250 pages, I find it 200 pages too long. A lot of the same points are made repeatedly with the same set of examples. With that said, I watched Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk on Start With Why and I highly recommend it.

People Buy Why You Do It

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it

Companies are founded for a cause and to address a problem. However, often times companies forget why they are founded and start to focus on what they are doing. Apple is a great example of a company that starts with why.

Led by Steve Jobs, Apple believes in challenging the status quo and thinking differently. It is reflected in how they develop their products by making it beautifully designed and user-friendly. And they just happen to make great computers. Having a clear why/belief is the reason Apple has great brand loyalty and will have people line up for hours just to get their products. If you focused on what I just said, you would notice I didn’t say computers but products instead. It seems natural that we would buy an mp3 player or a smartphone from Apple. But would you consider getting an mp3 player from Dell?

Dell came out with an mp3 player over a decade ago and it got discontinued shortly after. It’s not because its products are less superior. Dell has access to the same talent and same resources as Apple and definitely have the technical capabilities to design great technology products. It is instead because Dell loses it’s why and started to focus on what which is selling computers. We see Dell as a computer company and can’t imagine getting a smartphone or a smartwatch from a computer company. However, we do that all the time with Apple. This is because Apple has a clear sense of why and people who share that why can connect to its products and even get inspired by it.

Start with why and be consistent with it. That means how you do things, which include your marketing, the people you hire, and your products need to reflect on why you are doing things. And with consistency, people will see and hear what you believe.

Great Leaders Lead With Why

Great leaders embody a sense of purpose that inspires those around them. You can motivate your employees with a higher salary and more benefits. But to get the best out of your employees, they need to feel that the company cares about them and get inspired by the cause that the leader is leading them. Average leaders give their people something to work on, whereas great leaders give their people something to work towards.

Summary

Simon Sinek is a great speaker and an idealist. Although I don’t enjoy the book due to how dragged out I find it to be, I do find the core insights of starting with why valuable. So instead of reading the book, I would recommend watching Simon’s Ted Talk that I shared above.

 

I’m currently reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

Book Review: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Leadership is communicating others’ worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.

I have seen mixed reviews on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. Some reviews said it’s life-changing and others said you just need to know what the 7 habits are and the book doesn’t warrant a purchase. After hearing the book getting recommended by my mentor, I decided to give it a read and to stop the “should I give this book a read?” internal dialogue whenever I go book shopping.

Even though this book can be much more concise, it is very beneficial. The 7 habits are indeed easy to grasp, but it’s the methods that Stephen uses to build and reinforces these habits that I can take away and incorporate myself.

Habit #1 – Be Proactive

Until a person can say deeply and honestly, “I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday,” that person cannot say, “I choose otherwise.”

Be proactive and look for ways to get the results you are after. Often times, people attribute their mistakes and failures to external factors such as your boss, your coworkers, or your living conditions. These external factors do have an impact on your results, but they do not determine it. If you have to work with coworkers who often cause mistakes due to their inexperience, spend the extra time to understand and to train them rather than simply be frustrated by their low productivity. You may not determine the situation you are in, but you can take the initiative and the responsibility for you to improve your situation and to make things happen.

Habit #2 – Begin with the End in Mind

You can do it in every area of your life. Before a performance, a sales presentation, a difficult confrontation, or the daily challenge of meeting a goal, see it clearly, vividly, relentlessly, over and over again. Create an internal “comfort zone.” Then, when you get into the situation, it isn’t foreign. It doesn’t scare you.

Efficiency is a big focus nowadays. You study hard and get the highest grade for your courses. You try to do your tasks at work more efficiently. You try to get promoted sooner by putting in the work. But how often do we take a step back and consider if we are taking the right courses and whether we should consider a different degree? How often do we consider whether the tasks we are working on solves a key problem and if it does whether there’s a better solution or an even more important problem that we should be tackling? And how often do we consider whether to switch careers when we do not enjoy what we are currently doing?

Know what your goals are first before you start working. Picture yourself at your own funeral. You see your family, friends, and coworkers giving speeches about you. What do you want them to say? That will be your ultimate goal for the different roles you take on in life. With a lifelong goal in mind, you can work backward and establish yearly, monthly, and weekly goals. Plan out your week around your weekly goals. Doing this will help you allocate your time effectively and let you work with a purpose.

Habit #3 – Put First Things First

If we don’t have a clear idea of what is important, or the results we desire in our lives, we are easily diverted into responding to the urgent.

When you begin with the end in mind, you will have goals for the different roles (ex. brother, coworker, employee, friend, son, individual) you take on in life. Schedule time to achieve the weekly goals for each of your roles. This will give you clarity on what to focus on and will bring attention to the roles that you aren’t dedicating enough time to.

Ask yourself: What is one thing you could do (something you aren’t doing now) that, if you did it on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life? Allocate time for it and spend less time on things that don’t help you accomplish your lifelong goals.

covey-matrix

Keep in mind that urgent is different from important. Focus on and prioritize things that are important. If you don’t schedule time for things that are important, they will not get done since urgent things will take priority.

Habit #4 – Think Win/Win

Win/win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions.

Simply put, win/win is when both parties involved in an agreement or relationship are happy with what they signed up for. For any human interactions, think win/win. There will be situations where both parties can’t come to a win/win solution and if that’s the case, you are most likely better off to go for “no deal” rather than forcefully accepting a solution either side isn’t happy with. Even though going for win/lose, when you win and the other party loses, can benefit you in the short term, it can hurt you in the long run as you will have a hard time earning the trust of the other party when you don’t have their best interest at heart.

Emotional maturity is the ability to express one’s own feelings and convictions balanced with consideration for the thoughts and feelings of others.

To go for win/win, you not only have to be considerate but also courageous. If you’re not courageous, you won’t express and stand up for your own ideas and will often end up in a lose/win situation.

Habit #5 – Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

The key to effective personal communication is to seek first to understand, then to be understood. Everyone wants to be understood, however, not all of us take the time to understand others.

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They are either speaking or preparing to speak.

Before making suggestions or providing solutions we often don’t take the time to understand the problem and all of the different perspectives. We don’t trust doctors who prescribe solutions without doing a detailed diagnosis so we shouldn’t take the same approach when we communicate with others to solve problems as well.

When you can present your own ideas clearly, specifically, visually, and most important, contextually – in the context of a deep understanding of other people’s paradigms and concerns – you significantly increase the credibility of your ideas.

Habit #6 – Synergize

Synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When cooperating with others, value your differences and build on each others’ strengths to compensate for each others’ weaknesses. Ideas that stem from different perspectives can often be leveraged and merged into a better solution.

Habit #7 – Sharpen the Saw

Sharpen the saw is preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have – you.

I’m a firm believer that the best investment you can make is to invest in yourself. The knowledge you gain, the skills you learn, and the character you develop will always stay with you and benefit you.

When investing in yourself, remember to invest in all four dimensions of your nature – physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional. The physical dimension involves caring effectively for your own physical body. This means eating healthy and exercising regularly so you will have the energy throughout the day to accomplish your daily goals. The spiritual dimension is your core, your center, your commitment to your value system. Establish your value system and reflect regularly upon it to see if you are abiding by it. The mental dimension involves education, reading, and writing. Allocate time for learning so your mind is constantly improving and gaining new knowledge. The social/emotional dimension is about communication with others. This is something that we constantly do all the time naturally. Throughout these communications, try to be a better listener, a more creative problem solver, and a better communicator.

Summary

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a book I highly recommend to anyone. The concepts themselves are simple but it’s how Stephen Covey implements them that makes the book so insightful. I’ll personally try organizing on a weekly basis rather than on a daily basis as well as try to become a better listener. As always I’ll love to hear your feedback and happy new year to you all! I’ll reflect on my 2018 goals and share my goals for 2019 with you soon. 🙂

I’m currently reading The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill.

Book Review: High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove

Andrew S. Grove is the former chairman and CEO (and employee number three) of Intel. Having led Intel into the world’s largest manufacturer of semiconductors, Andrew shared his insights on management that are still relevant to this day.

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Although this book is more applicable to managers, it is not limited to people who hold management positions. From the outset of this book, Andrew mentioned that this book is also relevant for “know-how managers” – people who are sources of knowledge, skills, and understanding to people around them in any organization.  These know-how managers regularly affect and influence the work of others even without strict organizational authority.

I transitioned to the data engineer position from my previous solutions engineering role roughly 3 months ago. Even though I’ve never held a management position, I regularly help, train, and/or affect the work of engineers, engineering leads, commercial teams, and product managers. I see myself as a know-how manager and with this mindset, it gives me a new perspective on how I should approach my work which I’ll discuss below.

I’ll also encourage anyone who reports to a manager to read on further since I find it insightful to understand what a good manager should focus on. A good manager will have a huge positive impact on your career growth whereas a bad manager will negatively affect your desire to stay at your current company. The earlier you can identify signs of working for a bad manager, the more prepared you can be on your plan (ex. presenting new ideas to your manager, transferring departments, preparing for a new opportunity) going forward.

Helping others is a responsibility

The output of a manager is the output of the organizational units under his or her supervision or influence.

This quote above is my biggest takeaway. I love to help others and to see those people perform well. Due to that as well as some bad internal processes, I had to work long hours until recently for my own workload as well as the time I allocate to help and train others. I do it not because I have to but because I want to see these people along with the company succeed.

However, this book has given me a different perspective. Since I consider myself as a know-how manager, my output should be based on not only the output of my individual work but the output of all the people under my influence. Helping others is no longer just an act of goodwill, but a responsibility instead. Like my individual work, the time I spend on helping others need to be taken into account as my workload by both my manager and me. This means that I need to be more rigorous when helping others and the time I spend to help others will need to be properly allocated and prioritized against my own individual work.

Time management

How you handle your own time is the single most important aspect of being a role model and leader.

Andrew introduced the concept of managerial leverage, which is the output generated by a specific type of work activity.

It is crucial for managers to spend their time on high leverage activities since time is a finite resource. With that said, choosing the right activity to spend time on only allows you to exert the highest impact. The key is not to maximize your impact but to maximize positive impact. Therefore attention and focus need to be applied to the high leverage activities that you identified to ensure your impact is a positive one.

One example that many people can relate to is getting their performance reviews. Performance review usually happens annually and is the time when you get performance feedback along with any additional compensation or promotion that is deemed warranted by your manager. Performance review when done right will motivate employees to strive to perform at their best. And when done poorly (ex. ambiguous feedback, unclear leveling requirements, no feedback on how to improve) can demotivate employees for the rest of the year and in many cases cause employees to look for opportunities elsewhere. This is why Andrew was very rigorous on carrying out performance reviews and would also give training sessions on doing performance reviews since he was well aware that this is a particularly high leverage activity that can impact Intel’s ability to attract and keep great talent.

Normalize irregular activities

To make something regular that was once irregular is a fundamental production principle, and that’s how you should try to handle the interruptions that plague you.

One of the most costly time sinks is context switching. During context switching, you will need some time to change your mindset and continue from where the task was last left off. Working in a fast paced environment with multiple tasks I need to attend to, I incur context switching constantly. As many as 10 people can message me any given day for me to help resolve an issue. No matter how efficient you work, these interruptions do take a toll eventually. Getting unexpected interruptions throughout the day can drastically reduce your efficiency at any given task. And before you know it the day will be over and you wouldn’t be able to dedicate much time and focus on the core tasks that you planned for the day.

One thing that really helped me was to ask people that need your help to schedule regular meetings with you instead. This will achieve multiple objectives. First, people usually come more prepared with their questions when they come to meetings since they know it’s time-boxed. Second, it gives them an opportunity to group related questions together for you to resolve at the same time. And lastly, it gives people that need your help an idea of when their issues can be resolved. This is one example of normalizing irregular activities that have really benefitted me. If you have any other examples please share with me as well. 🙂

Summary

I’ll say this is a must-read for managers of different levels. Being a good manager is not easy and this book shows how managers can improve the lives of people under their influence which will, in turn, improve the performance of the team. Often times managers simply do not know what they need to focus on and giving this book a read is definitely a great first step.

 

I’m currently reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

What I Learned from Steve Ballmer’s Keynote on Leadership

A few weeks ago Index Exchange, where I’m working at as a solutions engineer, held an annual executive summit in Santa Monica. Steve Ballmer was the guest speaker invited who gave a keynote on the principles of leadership.

For those who don’t know, Steve Ballmer was the CEO of Microsoft from 2000 – 2014 and is the owner of the Los Angeles Clipper. As an NBA fan, I would love to get a chance to meet one of the most passionate NBA owners and learn from his experience. I didn’t get to attend but luckily for me, I was able to learn from the recordings and share my takeaways with you!

Ideas Matter

The worst leader of all is the charismatic leader who takes you in the wrong direction

The most important quality of a leader is having the right vision and ideas. What’s the proposition around which you are trying to lead people? Your team won’t buy in if they don’t believe in the direction you are leading them. There are many great ideas, but you need to choose the idea that your organization has the capability to execute on.

Get the Team Right

Talented people are talented people but they got to love where you want to go and collaborate in the right way

Start with ideas first. The team that you will want to put together will be dependent on your ideas. When picking the team, pick great people who believe in your vision and who can work well together.

Passion, Optimism, Persistence

Optimism is a force multiplier

If you don’t have passion, optimism, and persistence, then it’s hard to be in the game for the long term. In the road to accomplish great things, there will always be obstacles along the way. You will need passion to be focused on your goal, optimism to enjoy the journey, and persistence to get through the hard times.

Own the Results

The first step to owning the results is to know what the goal is. Measure your results against the goal. Understand how and why mistakes are made and learn how to prevent it from happening again. Start with yourself, but also hold your team accountable as well. Everyone makes mistakes but enforcing accountability is a must.

Magic of Time

Deciding timeframe for what success looks like and how long you give for ideas to develop is an important part of leadership
Everything has to be in a context of a timeframe that you think is relevant to what your team is working on.

Summary

This is one of the best keynotes I’ve watched. Steve Ballmer is an amazing speaker and all his points are concise and effective. He uses a story to demonstrate each of his key messages, which is something I’m learning to do more of. Unfortunately, the keynote recording is only shared internally, but this video I came across has very similar key messages. I’ll recommend it if you want to learn more about his leadership principles as well as how he communicates on stage.

I’ll love to hear what your thoughts are. 🙂