Kids are born leaders. Watch as parents squirm when this powerful leadership word exits their child's lips - WHY? Forced to elaborate and articulate a response that is sufficiently complete but also simple enough for a child to understand, the parent invariably resorts to something nonsensical. Funny enough, the same thing happens when you as a leader ask your staff WHY they are engaging in a particular activity or taking a given course of action. It's truly amazing how often we don't question the reason or rationale behind what we are doing. But you can stop all that with one word - WHY.
When you are starting your leadership journey, other questioning words are much more prevalent. You typically focus on the WHATs and HOWs and WHENs of achieving a given objective. But invariably you will encounter resistance, problems, and obstacles and it is at this juncture that you need to unleash the latent power of the WHYs.
This approach is particularly important when searching for the root cause behind a given issue related to a performance breakdown or at the beginning of a problem solving cycle. Answering the 5 WHY's can provide critical understanding of the true nature of the situation and lead to solutions that truly address problems at their base.
Allow me to illustrate:
Let's say that your car battery is dead.
WHY did it die? Maybe the battery is faulty.
WHY is it faulty? Maybe due to an electrical fault.
WHY was there an electrical fault? Maybe there's a bad connection.
WHY was there a bad connection? Maybe car vibration loosened the connection.
WHY is the car vibrating too much? Maybe the wheels are out of balance.
Best potential solution: Balance the wheels.
Without leveraging the power of WHY, in this example, 9 out of 10 people would rush to replace the battery which will most likely fail again because the true root cause was not identified and corrected. WHY is the transformational leadership question to ask when you are winning and losing. If you know WHY you are winning (i.e. well balanced wheels), you can double down on your success and scale that up (drive faster, go farther). In converse if you know WHY you are losing (i.e. need to balance the wheels) you can stop and intervene to avert disaster.
Every now and again you should do an inventory of your company's processes and procedures and leverage the power of WHY. If your team cannot explain WHY they have to undertake a given activity or perform a certain task in a certain way then imagine how that confusion potentially permeates deeper into the organization. These “WHY's” are the precise difference between basic descriptions and good explanations. And good explanations go a LONG way in achieving buy-in and alignment.
Let's take this concept up a few levels. To what degree do you understand WHY your role exists as a leader or WHY your company should exist or WHY customers should choose your products or services? Simon Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership — starting with a golden circle and the question "WHY?"
Sinek's golden circle takes an inside (insight) out approach to defining purpose and reason for being:
In Sinek's words, "People don't buy what you do they buy why you do it. The goal is to do business with those who believe what you believe."
Once you understand WHY you, your company, and product and services should exist it becomes much easier for people to follow, engage, or support you.
WHY is the difference between staying in bed and waking up ready to do your best everyday.
WHY is the difference between lack of engagement and total buy-in.
WHY is the difference between good and great performance.
Let's discuss how you've leveraged the power of WHY in the comments below. And I'll leave you with this very inspiring TED talk by Simon Sinek on the topic. If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your network! Also, please join my growing leadership tribe on twitter!