Remember when Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why and many other leadership books, told you to define your “why”? It is at the crux of all his books on leadership, and yet it’s still often overlooked in today’s ever-changing business environment. Defining your “why” is what separates you from the masses, the mission you live out as a company beyond the drive for profit. It gives your employees a chance to invest in something greater than themselves, which grows commitment, loyalty, and investment. It establishes purpose and meaning to the work that you (collectively) do. And yes, defining that “why” for your business is important for success, but it’s only the beginning.
You must also ask your employees to define the “why” in their own terms, aligning it with their own skills, responsibilities, and purview. To ensure the growth of a new generation of invested leaders–those who will guarantee the longevity of your company and vision–you must ask each employee to frame their work more intentionally in the context of your company’s purpose.
For example, I have worked for several startups where they either were solely in it for the profits or they boasted a strong CEO who had vision coming out his ears, but little sense of how this filtered down to workaday Joes and Janes.
In the former case, employees came and went without much care for the impact on the company and, quite frankly, put in as little effort as possible to get the job done. The job was just that–a job, not a career or vocation. Overall, quality was poor and morale was low. In the latter case, talented newbies clung to the energetic CEO in the early days, but quickly floundered when they experienced the daily disconnect between the leader’s vision and their own purpose in the day-to-day grind. They didn’t feel like they were serving a purpose, so they gave up trying to find one.
What I’ve longed for, and what I’ve seen inspire lucky peers, is a leader who celebrates a clear vision that is both executable and supported by his or her entire team. From where you sit all the way down to assistants, each employee must understand the company’s purpose and how their role serves the greater end. This precipitates a personal and emotional investment in not just what the company does but what it is, a leader among competitors with a passionate vision underscoring every task, every meeting, every project.
Seem too grandiose to be possible in your company? It’s not. It starts with you defining your role in the context of the greater why. This folds in your skills, responsibilities, and management tasks. Then, you have to communicate that to every employee, from the job description for new hires to the training to ongoing job reviews.
Then, continue to ask this question of everyone on your team: What is your why, and how does it fit in with our greater vision? What have you accomplished to realize the company’s purpose, as well as your own, this month/quarter/year?
You will find this intentional practice not only produces eager, invested new employees, but also holds everyone accountable, from the top down. When each employee works with their “why” in mind, it shines a glaring spotlight on the moments when the “why” is missing. Never wanting to be standouts, those suffering from directionless work will be motivated to quickly address their absent “why,” with the help of their co-workers and you. As many have said, it takes a village, and living up to the mission of your business is no exception.
All of this begins with you, the business owner. And it requires you to take this “why” business seriously.
As Sinek showed us more than 10 years ago when he revealed the “why” theorem, a purpose-driven mentality will not only be the reason why people buy from you and not your competitors, it will also be why talented, innovative employees work for you and not the companies offering the most attractive compensation packages. Perhaps most importantly, it will be why your company will last for generations, lifting up those internal talents who have grown to embrace their daily “why.”
Published on: Feb 25, 2020
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