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Tell Me The Why

When our toddler children asked us the why question all day long we thought it was charming. It meant they were curious, smart, and exploring the world to learn new things.

Then we went to the workplace as adults and things changed. Those people asking why questions all day long became annoying and problematic. Their questions became pesky interference in our plan to get the job done fast. Wonder why that is so?

Over the weekend, I was reading Kouzes and Posner’s recent book, The Truth About Leadership. In research, the authors found that the top three characteristics of admired leaders are honest, forward-looking and inspiring.

So if I want to be an admired leader, I need to tell my people the truth, help them know where we are going (the vision) and inspire them to pursue that vision. To inspire or motivate the people, I need to share the why.

In short, admired leaders answer the why question for the people.

Knowing why you are working on something elevates the importance of the work and your engagement in the work. If the why is something that matters to you, then the work matters to you. If the why inspires you, then you are inspired by the work. If the why energizes you, then the work is energizing.

The obvious corollary is if the why doesn’t matter to you, then the work doesn’t matter much. If the why doesn’t inspire or energize you, then the work is mundane, boring, or worse.

“Hardwork is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.”
~ Malcolm Gladwell

So my challenge to you today, is to make sure you are taking time to explain the why at work. When you assign work, you always give a goal or due date. You usually discuss the expectations for the work. But have you explained the why behind the work? Have you taken time to inspire your people? Have you asked the people why they are energized about this work? Do you know if they have a different why than you do?

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Our human condition is that we need to have a why. We need to know that we are doing something that matters. We need to know we are valued. We look to our leaders to tell us the why at work. Be a leader that can answer the why questions at work.

2 Responses

  1. Sharing the ‘why” will build trust and purpose. I think this is a not only a great practice for leaders, but also an admirable one.

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