In his incredibly popular TedX talk, “Start with Why” Simon Sinek says “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” That’s as true in leading people as it is in selling products or services. People want to know our motivations, our “why’s”. I see it daily in my work and in my personal relationships.
The “Why” is Inspirational
As Sinek points out, most of us are comfortable with, maybe even experts at the “what”. We can create great products, processes, policies, and action plans. We can talk about the technical details of the products or services we deliver. We can answer logical questions that meet the intellectual needs of our clients and internal and external customers. But can we get them to react emotionally to what we do? That is where the “why” comes into play. We must get people to develop an emotional connection to what we are doing, for them to take action.
The “Why” is also inspirational because it is so rare to hear it from other people. In today’s fast-paced world we are so focused on what and how. We want everything in bullet points and digestible chunks. I am amazed again and again when I take time to listen to people, to hear their stories. Even without using the term, I begin to understand their “why”. We are all motivated by our past experiences and education and personal histories. When we take time to learn those, of those we work with and those we lead, we are shaped and motivated as well.
People need the “Why”
Think of the last major policy change or tough decision you had to communicate to those you lead. People immediately know the “what.” (At least if the decision is adequately communicated.) What they need in addition to the “what” is the “why”. Take for instance a decision to decrease the amount of overtime on a production shift. If the why isn’t provided people will make it up. Is it because there is a downturn? Are they just trying to squeeze more production out of us? Are layoff’s coming?
Notice that rarely when an employee has to find the why on their own do they default to a positive explanation. It is a bit of human nature to assume that there is some negative motivation to significant changes. People need the context, or they will create their own.
True North’s “Why”
Many people may think that training, development, organizational consulting–and even worse, team building–is a pretty uninspiring way to try and make a living. But every day I wake up energized to do the work I do. It’s the “why” that matters. When I see an individual or a team connect with a piece of information; when I see productivity increase or negative conflict decrease; when I see a supervisor’s feedback shift from negative to positive; I know I am doing important work.
Nearly everyone groans when team building comes up. (It’s one reason why I prefer the term team development.) But, again and again, I see people make real connections during the events I facilitate. They learn a little about one another. The see one another in a different light. They take opportunities to learn and grow together.
It’s also personal for me. I know that I enjoy challenge. I enjoy taking positive risks and working towards the reward. I know the value of stepping out in to uncomfortable places and learning from experiences. I want others to feel that as well. Whether it is in the classroom, at the conference center or out in the woods, we grow when we are challenged intellectually, emotionally or physically. Individuals, teams and organizations can benefit from these shared experiences, and I love being the one to create the environment and facilitate the learning.
Jerritt Johnston is the Owner of True North Consultants, which promotes organizational, individual and team growth through challenging, fun and relevant activities and processes. True North is an Authorized Partner for Everything DiSC®and The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™.