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Why Start with Why?

by Mike Smith • November 26, 2019

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I have been reading a book called Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek. He realized that successful, inspirational leaders start with a purpose and stay with it. Everything takes a hind seat to the mission.

Sinek calls this leadership process “the golden circle.” It starts with a vision—the why—and moves to implementation (the how). The process then moves to the product or service: the what.

The author submits that most leaders and organizations go in the opposite direction. The problem with a sequence that starts with what is that it doesn’t build true loyalty. The only way such an organization can last long-term is through manipulation: lowering prices, using incentives, and generating revenue with other creative means.

The golden circle for homeschool groups

Because most homeschool organizations are nonprofit, when we complete our articles of incorporation and bylaws we have to address our why. This is normally the organization’s mission or purpose statement. For HSLDA, our number one purpose is to establish and maintain the fundamental, God-given right of parents to direct the education of their children through homeschooling. Many state and local homeschool organizations have similar whys.

In the early stages of HSLDA’s existence, we didn’t have to have much of a marketing plan to attract members. The fear of prosecution was real in most states, and in some states (like Iowa, Nebraska, and North Dakota), if the school district found out your family homeschooled, you could expect to be prosecuted. About the only reason a family might not join HSLDA is if they thought they couldn’t afford the $100. (Our membership dues remained at $100 for over 20 years.)

At a homeschool conference in Ohio, in the early ’90s, a homeschool dad stood up in one of my workshops and said to those assembled, “If you don’t have $100 now to join HSLDA, where will you get $10,000 if you have to defend your family in court?” We had just represented his family all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court to protect their right to homeschool. Believe me, I used that story a few times on the conference circuit.

But the premise of Start with Why is that, in a larger sense, people don’t come to a service provider because of the service we offer but because of the vision we cast. For HSLDA, that vision is freedom.

Tips for starting with why

What are some ways to apply Sinek’s ideas to your organization? It might be worth board time to go through the exercise of revisiting your mission or purpose to make sure it is an expression of the heart rather than the head. In our highly technical world, we have the ability to make analytical decisions, and there certainly is a place for that—but not in deciding the purpose of an organization, which needs to be visionary.

If you’re not sure how to establish a visionary purpose, a good place to start would be to get Simon Sinek’s book and read through it.

By the way, it’s OK to write a completely new and bold purpose or vision statement to capture a new direction of your board and new need within your community. You would simply need to amend your bylaws or articles. In light of the current changing face of homeschooling, almost any organization’s purpose statement would probably benefit from tweaking.

An additional step is making sure your current and potential constituents—whether members, visitors to your website, or attenders of your events—know what your vision is. It should probably be at the forefront of every communication you make. Think of your vision statement as your brand: you want anyone who thinks of your organization to have that vision etched in their mind. For new families just finding out about you, this should be the most prominent thing they read or hear about you.

The vision—the why—is what will make your organization relevant as long as homeschooling remains a viable social movement. That could result in a vision statement like this: To make it easier for every family in our county to homeschool . . . or even something like this: To make sure homeschooling is around for our grandkids. (Nothing wrong with that!) May God bless you in this endeavor!