THE BLOG
12/09/2013 10:44 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Today in the Mind of Simon Sinek

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Simon Sinek is a thought leader, writer and speaker. He is the author of "Start with Why" and the upcoming book "Leaders Eat Last." In his widely acclaimed TEDx talk, Simon popularized the concept of the "the golden circle," a powerful model for leadership. Simon teaches leaders and organizations how to inspire people. Follow him on Twitter: @simonsinek

What can light up your inspiration/creativity instantly?

SS: I'm inspired by stories of service. Any time I hear a story of someone who gave selflessly to someone else and wanted nothing in return, it really brings a tear to my eye. Stories of people who put the needs of others before themselves really gets me every time.

What helps you transform this motivation and inspiration into focused action that produces tangible results?

SS: I don't do things for the results. I am driven by the desire to give, and if I have ideas ... my rush is to share them, whether I share them speaking, or whether I share them writing. Even if I share it with someone who takes the idea and makes it their own and it's not even mine any more, I'm OK with that. If you do enough of this, then results will follow.

What's one goal you wish the 25-year-old Simon had set and achieved by now, and why was that goal important?

SS: My life took the course for whatever reason it took it. There are certain lessons I wish I had learned earlier for sure. One big lesson is, I don't have to know all the answers and if I don't know the answers, I don't have to pretend that I do ... And it was the course of my life that taught me those lessons.

How do you personally measure success?

SS: Success is defined by the lives you touch. The ability to serve others and not in a martyr way, but in a way that gives your life meaning and value. And it's a constant balancing act. But for me, it's the calm you have when you know that people value you and value your ideas and that your life and opinions matter. I think we all want that. It's not a perfect science. There are days when no matter how "successful" I feel, there are days when I don't feel that. But the strive is to feel that my work and my efforts matter in the lives of others.

What's one good question you ask a lot, aside from "Why?"

SS: I'm curious by nature and I'm interested in what drives people. I'm interested in the reasons people make the decisions they do and then I see the patterns -- good, bad or indifferent. But there's no one specific question.

If now is a good time, what would you let go of?

SS: It's the journey, it's the striving that makes us who we are ... I wish I could let go of the reliance on money. I wish I didn't need it, but at the same time if I were a multi-millionaire and I didn't have to work, would I be able to feel as hungry for the stuff that I do and would I be as aggressive in trying to get out there and spread my message? I believe that there are unintended consequences. Sometimes we do things for the right reasons and it backfires, or we do things for the wrong reasons and there's a lesson to be learned.

I am who I am ... and I'm totally imperfect and it's all of the jumble of ideas in my head, sometimes competing ideas, that make me who I am and allow me to come up with the ideas that I come up with. And though I'm always striving to be a better version of myself, I can't say "I would get rid of this," because that would mean cutting off one of my limbs. I work to make my limbs stronger, but I don't work to cut them off.

I think this is one of the struggles with the whole coaching, self-development world, which is very selfish. How can I get better? How can I get stronger? How can I let go of the things that are holding me back? What about somebody else? Everybody is so selfishly-driven. How can I become the best person so I can help others? Why don't you just go and help others and maybe you become a better person. There's so much "me, me, me, me, me," and "I'm just trying to find calm." Well, try and help somebody else find calm. This is how alcoholics anonymous works. The reason people overcome alcoholism and find happiness is the 12th step. Alcoholics anonymous know that if you achieve all 11 steps, but not the 12th, you will drink again. Whereas if you achieve the 12th step, you will beat the disease. The 12th step is the commitment to help another alcoholic. It's service.

The way we find happiness is not by setting out to achieve our own goals. The way we find happiness is by helping others achieve theirs. You go to the United States Marine Corps, on the first day they all want to prove that they are strong. By the end, they all want to help each other. This is what advancement, innovation, ideas, fulfillment, happiness, calm, success all feel like. We're social animals and everything about us is more successful when we look after each other. It's like being a parent. A parent doesn't say "How can I be the best parent." A parents says "How can I help my children be the best they can be." And in so doing they may become great parents. But the motivation is not to be a greater parent, the motivation is to help my kids be great. It's service-oriented. That's what it means to be a parent -- to put the life of another human being before my own. Sometimes to sacrifice my own comfort, sometimes to sacrifice my own food so that my children will eat first.

Leadership and life are the same way, which is, when we commit ourselves to love and care for others, life is good. It doesn't mean it's easy... It's hard work. And it's a choice. Leadership is a choice to put the care for someone else before our own -- that's really hard! And sometimes we do have to have those internal debates about selfish vs. selfless. And the goal is not to be a martyr. When it counts, when it really counts, you are willing to sacrifice something that can benefit the good of another.

The only reason to improve myself is with the goal of serving others. It's not even my happiness. My happiness will come from helping others find their own happiness. It's the same thing as the 12th step.

If you could experience for a day the life of one other person, whom would that be?

SS: I would put myself in the life of a Marine or a soldier in combat. To know what it feels like when danger is all around you and yet you have courage, because you can feel the love of your fellow Marine or your fellow soldier standing right next to you, who you know, without a shadow of a doubt, would risk their lives for you. To feel the intensity of what they must feel. They have courage only because they know that there is somebody next to them who cares about them deeply.

I've heard stories about that intense camaraderie. There's a soldier who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor recently, and there's video of him when he was carrying a wounded soldier to a helicopter ... and as he puts him in the helicopter, he leans forward and kisses him on the forehead and he runs back into the fire to rescue others. If you tell me that's not love, I don't know what is.

We have the luxury of looking after ourselves. They have the honor of looking after each other.

What do you know to be true?

SS: What I know to be true is that the love that others have for me will give me the courage to love them back; that the sacrifice that others give to me will give me the courage to sacrifice for them, and the sacrifice that I'm willing to make for others will give them the courage to sacrifice for me.

Editor's note: Simon's upcoming book, "Leaders Eat Last," is centered around the topic of service. According to Simon, "We live in a world where people pay themselves first and wait to see if there's anything left to pay others. But great leaders do the opposite. They pay others first and if there's anything left, they pay themselves ... That kind of attitude, that willingness to put one's interest aside when it matters to look after those in your care, this is the makings of a leader. And it's not my opinion. It's biology, it's anthropology. These things are empirically true."