By Richard John Kouyoumdjian Inglis
The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle was created by Simon Sinek for corporations, but it is fully applicable to institutions such as navies. It’s pretty simple but very powerful. Its main characteristic is that it forces you to identify why you do things (the purpose), how you do them (culture) and what you do (actions) – this last section nobody gets wrong, right? Using Sinek´s Golden Circle outside the corporate world is less common, and the idea of this article is to demonstrate that it can be used by an organisation, including a fighting Navy.
When writing my dissertation The Chilean Navy as a case study in the value and performance of medium and small naval powers in South America, I had the chance to interview several Chilean Navy senior officers including its Commander in-Chief, Admiral Julio Leiva. In that conversation and the ones that followed, we both concluded that middle power navies such as the Chilean Navy need a robust and well-articulated narrative that would not only serve for internal purposes, but also as the basis for the way the navy communicates and connects itself with Chileans and the rest of the world.
Why Modern Navies Need a Purpose
The first question that may be asked is why do you need a narrative in a navy that is 200 years old? The answer is pretty simple. Things change, and you have to adapt to the times and your Navy has to rise to meet the needs of the contemporary strategic context. Having said that, does this mean a totally fresh start? Obviously, a new narrative does not need to break with the past and divorce its history. On the contrary, a modern Navy needs to build on its heritage as part of the process of giving the current organisation a purpose and meaning that recognises where it came from and where it is going. This purpose should connect the present to history and its heroes to motivate current serving members and remind them of their personal call to service and the value they continue to provide. Young people need to know the purpose and feel that they are part of something that goes beyond a salary or a job, and if that is not clear, they will either not join the organisation, or leave it pretty soon.
For the purpose of creating the Chilean Navy narrative, we set up a team with Admiral Leiva, Vice admiral Juan Andrés De La Maza (then a rear admiral) and Commander Christopher Green. After reviewing the history component of our narrative (the one that tells you where you come from and what you’ve done), it was Admiral Leiva´s idea to use Simon Sinek´s Golden Circle that obliges you define the why, the how and the what the navy does which in turn forces you to consider the what, the how and ultimately reevaluate the why of your organisation – in this case the Chilean Navy. It was not easy. Particularly for an institution that is more accustomed to speaking in terms of missions and strategies, but not in terms of itself. A retired Chilean Vice Admiral once told me that navies did not need to do this because they are navies and that was a good enough when it comes to purpose. However, defining your purpose is the key element of war fighting.
Agreeing on what a navy does nowadays is more difficult if your political masters have not mastered the subject, don’t have a clear definition of the national interests or are accustomed to the last three decades of falling under a post-Cold War “Pax Americana” in which the U.S. Navy made sure the global commons remained open for trade. For the Chilean Navy the Golden Circle activity was more complicated because it also includes the coastguard service and its own marine corps. Further Chile holds a complex territorial position that includes a large EEZ, islands located deep into the Pacific Ocean, a large Antarctic territory and last but not least, 95% of its trade is done by sea. This final point means that we are not indifferent to what happens in the Malacca Straits or in other chokepoints that could mean our exports or imports are at risk. As it is the case of countries such as Australia, we are geographically open to the world via the sea and we see ourselves as a maritime nation that depends on the sea for its survival. In that sense, we have more in common with trading nations of the Western Pacific than countries located in South America.
What We Learnt
- On a day-to-day level, everybody knows what we do and how we do it, but this Golden Circle exercise is an excellent tool to requalify what we do and how we do it, making sure we are doing things right for the current climate and for the times to come. It also confirms that people and culture are the key elements or core assets that have to be protected and developed in fighting organisations such as navies. People and culture make the difference and distinguish good from bad navies.
- The Golden Circle is an exercise that has to be repeated several times until stakeholders reach something that can be tested internally to see if their people will understand it and make it their own. If that happens and they buy into it, then the narrative can be given your fellow countrymen and the political establishment for national endorsement and a national narrative for a modern but long-lived and victorious Navy.
- Do not be afraid of going through the Golden Circle activity. Only good things will result from the exercise. Yes, you may at times wonder what the hell you are doing, especially when approached by your own people trying to understand why it’s important to do such a thing. Remember that you will find people that believe navies are navies and do not need Golden Circle type of solutions. Being modern in a 200-year-old traditional organisation requires character, being brave and a clear idea of why you are taking time to determine your purpose and if what you do is done the right way.
Richard John Kouyoumdjian Inglis is the Vice Chairman of AthenaLab, a former Chilean Naval Officer and a board member of the Chilean Maritime League. Richard holds an M.A of War in the Modern World from Kings College London and has been published by the Corbett Centre for Maritime Policy Studies, the USNI Proceedings, The Naval Review of UK, the ANI, the Chilean “Revista de Marina”, and is a regular columnist in Defence matters in local newspapers. Richard often tweets from @RICHARDJOHNKOU1.
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