Thoughts On Leadership: Leaders Need Those Who Know How

Last week, we looked at the importance of planning ahead from Simon Sinek’s book “Start With Why.” This week is a further look at the book, specifically on Chapter 8 and the discussion of ‘Those Who Know WHY Need Those Who Know HOW.’ The following is an excerpt from Chapter 8: Start With Why, But Know How, that I wanted to share with you:

The pessimists are usually right, to paraphrase Thomas Friedman, author of “The World Is Flat,” but it’s the optimists who change the world. Bill Gates imagined a world in which the computer could help us all reach our greatest potential. And it happened. Now he imagines a world in which malaria does not exist. And it will happen. The Wright brothers imagined a world in which we’d all take to the skies as easily as we catch the bus. And it happened. WHY-types have the power to change the course of industries or even the world…if only they knew HOW.

WHY-types are the visionaries, the ones with the overactive imaginations. They tend to be optimists who believe that all the things they imagine can actually be accomplished. HOW-types live more in the here and now. They are the realists and have a clearer sense of all things practical. WHY-types are focused on the things most people can’t see, like the future. HOW-types are focused on things most people can see and tend to be better at building structures and processes and getting things done. One is not better than the other, they are just different ways people naturally see and experience the world. Gates is a WHY-type. So were the Wright brothers. And Steve Jobs. And Herb Kelleher. But they didn’t do it alone. They couldn’t. They needed those who knew HOW.

“If it hadn’t been for my big brother, I’d have been in jail several times for checks bouncing,” said Walt Disney, only half joking, to a Los Angeles audience in 1957. “I never knew what was in the bank. He kept me on the straight and narrow.” Walt Disney was a WHY-type, a dreamer whose dream came true thanks to the help of his more sensible older brother Roy, a HOW-type.

Walt Disney began his career creating cartoon drawings for advertisements, but moved quickly to making animated movies. It was 1923 and Hollywood was emerging as the heart of the movie business, and Walt wanted to be part of it. Roy, who was eight years older, had been working at a bank. Roy was always in awe of his brother’s talent and imagination, but he also knew that Walt was prone to taking risks and to neglecting business affairs. Like all WHY guys, Walt was busy thinking about what the future looked like and often forget he was living in the present. “Walt Disney dreamed, drew and imagined, Roy stayed in the shadow, forming an empire,” wrote Bob Thomas, a Disney biographer. “A brilliant financier and businessman, Roy helped turn Walt Disney’s dreams into reality, building the company that bears his brother’s name.” It was Roy who founded the Buena Vista Distribution Compan that made Disney films a central part of American childhood. It was Roy who created the merchandising business that transformed Disney characters into household names. And, like almost every HOW-type, Roy never wanted to be the front man, he preferred to stay in the background and focus on HOW to build his brother’s vision.

In nearly every case of a person or an organization that has gone on to inspire people and do great things, there exists this special partnership between WHY and HOW. It is the partnership of a vision of the future and the talent to get it done that makes an organization great.