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It’s easy to forget why.
About a decade ago, Simon Sinek made the now infamous Ted Talk, “How great leaders inspire action.” The overarching theme of the talk is to start with why. The premise is that most people part of teams understand what they need to do, fewer people know how they need to do it, and the elite performers share an understanding of why they’re doing it. Incidentally enough, he also wrote a book titled “Start With Why”. At the end of this post is the full talk. He attempts to explain why some are able to achieve seemingly impossible feats. The common thread is that people who outperform and who push beyond the limits of what was previously possibly are able to do so because of the collective buy-in surrounding the ‘why’.
I attach this concept to some of my more recent exchanges with companies and organizations who are at different levels of maturity. I’ll reference 3 examples:
Company A is eager. They’re attached to the meaning. The genesis of the company spawns from a need that they were trying to solve for themselves. They’re setting out to solve that same problem for others. They’re closest to their 'why'. They’re energized by the possibility. Their minds are working in overdrive. They’re thinking outside of the box, and they’re committed to taking the leap. Every decision is made by the ‘why’.
Company B is driven. They’ve gotten over the hump. They are in goal setting and problem-solving mode. They remember their 'why', but they also have been influenced and somewhat jaded by the realities and difficulties of working ‘in’ the business. Their 'why' is slightly deprioritized. They remember why they started, but their day-in-day-out becomes the focal point. In this stage of the business, leaders can take 1 of 2 paths. They can double down on their 'why', or they can tend to daily fires.
Company C is content. The people that are in leadership are seasoned. They’ve been part of the organization for many, many years. They have members who automatically renew, who’ve established connections and see value in their fiscal contributions because they view the organization as a conduit to their existing relationships. Yet, they want to expand past this existing user-base. They will be hard pressed to do so. Their 'why' is practically non-existent. They no longer remember why they became a part of the organization; thus, it is next to impossible to empathize with a potential new member or client.
First and foremost, there has to be personal and professional alignment.
A person not only has to identify what motivates them but also why they’re motivated in that way. It would seem that advancing into mastery of something requires a high-level of emotional intelligence. It’s true, it does. Fulfillment comes when a person truly understand what drives them not necessarily what they’re ‘good at’ or what they ‘should be doing’. Team leaders and team members should ask the question, "but why?" at least 3-5 layers deep for every decision or in-action.
It’s not as easy as it might seem. Here are some tips:
Get to know your people. Set aside time intentionally to ask thought-provoking questions around their whole person. If you can identify things that motivate them, you can be more strategic in aligning your goals.
Create and participate in an environment that asks tough questions. You cannot expect your teammates to do something that you are unwilling to do. You must be willing to ask tough questions and fail yourself.
Commit to the idea that there are no wrong questions and no bad ideas. Innovation doesn’t come out of thin air. It comes as a byproduct of perseverance of many, many bad ideas and failures. If you’re committed to innovation, you must also be committed to the creative process.
Statistically, people would rather work in jobs where they experience dissatisfaction in the 'job itself but have managers they enjoyed over working in jobs that they loved and have disdain for their leaders. Think about that. People always make a difference. Remember that the people are on your team are the most important people in their lives. Treat them that way, their 'why' could make all of the difference in your company’s trajectory.
Start with why:
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