Why, How, or What… Which is More Important?

Recently, a client who was having a difficult time getting the results he needed from a few people on his team asked me to share my definition of leadership.

Simply stated, I told him that leaders motivate and galvanize those they lead to get results – period.  There are numerous competencies and skills that leaders need to possess to do this – and about a thousand models, books, articles, classes and coaches that can tell you how to do it!

However, at the end of the day, the job is still the same – to get results through the people we lead.     Yet, sometimes leaders find themselves running in circles trying to get the job done with a lot of talented people who can’t quite execute on their strategy.

They begin by sharing what they want, and then share how they believe their team can achieve it.  Elaborate plans are developed and accountability is assigned.  But an important component is missing.   They have good intentions, but the results aren’t exactly what they hope for.

Simon Sinek, the author of the wildly popular and very insightful book ‘Start With Why’ believes that this happens when leaders are not clear about their WHY – the underlying purpose that drives their strategy and the need for the results they desire.

I am not talking about an organization’s broad vision or mission statement. What I am referring to is much more nuanced and frankly harder to develop and even communicate.

Hence the reality that most leaders don’t purposely develop it.

Yet a leader’s WHY is the essential ingredient in getting results and therefore critically important to get right. Why? People stay motivated to follow you and execute on your plan as a leader when they feel aligned to a strong purpose.  Even on the days when the work feels like drudgery or the tasks are boring, your team will pull through for you because they are clear that their work makes a difference and is meaningful.

The same is true for organizations that have strong customer loyalty.  Sinek says ‘customers don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it’.

Consider Apple Computers and why it is such a wildly successful – and well loved – organization.  Sinek writes that if Apple viewed itself as most companies do, they would describe themselves as follows, based on WHAT they do:

We make great computers. They are beautiful designed, simple to use and user-friendly. Want to buy one?

Now look at this statement that starts with Apple’s WHY.

Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo.  We believe in thinking differently (WHY). The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly (HOW). And we happen to make great computers (WHAT). Want to buy one?

See the difference?  This statement starts with WHY, and is much more compelling – at least compelling enough get millions of loyal customers to wait in very long lines at Apple Stores around the country to get their hands on the new I Phone6!  People clearly buy WHY Apple exists.  Employees who work at Apple give their best because they believe in WHY Apple exists. And clearly, Apple has the results to show it.

Watch this video to learn more about Sinek’s belief that people don’t by what you do, they buy WHY you do it. When they get your WHY, they will do whatever it takes to get the job done.  It will change your perspective on what it means to be a leader who can truly inspire those you lead to get the best results for you and your organization.



- Erica Bennett -

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