Blog Post

Where’s My Why?

Great leaders inspire action because they are crystal clear about the “why” of what they do and the how—a concept championed by visionary Simon Sinek. This article will provide a roadmap to arrive at your “why.”

Homing in On Your “Why”

The “why” defines the emotional connection people have to their work; it is a reminder about why it is meaningful, returning employees to a mindset of integrity. It is simple and memorable.

For individuals, “why” is the bridge between the spiritual and the physical expression of their talent. For teams, it gives the work they do together meaning. For an organization, the “why” guides and unites everyone.

Consider how we may arrive at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “why.” If asked, what did he stand for? Most will state civil rights and equality. He was passionate for civil rights and equality; this is his “why.” Other “whys” include:

• Mahatma Gandhi existed for non-violence.

• Apple founder Steve Jobs existed for innovation.

• Mother Teresa existed for love and human dignity.

• Hospital emergency department team exists for quality care.

• A hospital referral team exists for the right service.

In determining your own “why” or that of your team or organization, ask:

• What do I/we stand for?

• What am I excited to express or give?

• What is the team passionate about delivering?

An important criterion for ensuring you are on track to identifying the “why” is the use of the word for. If your answers begin with the word “to” you have strayed into the world of “what.”

Take note, the “why” may also be embodied in a belief(s). For example, a surgical team may believe that when patients arrive for surgery, that they should be as worry free as possible and their medical care will be seamless. That team could exist for (the patient’s) peace of mind.

Homing in On Your “What”

Defining the “what” is easier because “what” questions pop up all the time: what do you want to do today? What software do you need for this project? What’s for dinner?

The “What”, in this case, describes your primary function—the one action you take to express “why” you exist. While there could be multiple functions, choosing a primary “what” provides clarity and focus.

King’s primary function was to march. For Gandhi, it was to fast. Steve Jobs’ was to think differently. Mother Teresa ministered to the poorest of the poor. The emergency department teams’ primary function is to reassure patients and families. The referral teams’ “what” is to connect the right patient to the right provider.

To home in on your “what,” ask: What is my team’s primary function? What is the key thing I do? Remember, a criterion for ensuring you are on track to determining the “what” is the use of the word to. If your responses begin with the word for you have strayed into the world of “why.”

Word of caution: It is very easy to ask the question “What am I good at?” to determine your primary function. Instead, take stock of what you have been doing, make a list and then choose.

Combining Your “Why” and “What”

Asking someone the question what do you do is common. Combining “Why” and “what” to respond to that question now becomes natural. This statement/response is sometimes referred to as an elevator pitch, but what makes this statement different is that it includes the “why.”

Responses to What do you do? that combine the “what” and “why:”

• King: I march (“what”) for civil rights and equality (“why”).

• Gandhi: I fast (“what”) for non-violence (“why”).

• Jobs: I think differently (“what”) for innovation (“why”).

• Mother Teresa: I minister to the poorest of the poor (“what”) for love and human dignity (“why”).

• The emergency department: We reassure patients and their families (“what”) that they will receive quality care (“why”).

• The patient referral team: We connect the right patient to the right provider (“what”) for the right service (“why”).

When you, teams, and organizations become clear about what they do—primary function— and the reason for existing, then the “how” naturally arises and the work becomes more fulfilling.

This post was written by Patricia Russell, founder of The Russell Consulting Group, coaches leaders and employees to confidently create cultures that are great places to work AND produce results. What’s her “Why?” Hope & Inspiration.

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