It can be an incredibly annoying question. Especially when it comes from a child who has just been asked to complete a task. This single question has prompted the greatest parenting response of all time – “because I told you to!”
While parents might dread the “why” question, it might be the most important question any leader can ask. As I look back at my leadership journey, I can see the difference that this question made, especially when I was asking it consistently.
The challenge I faced was a common one. I was so busy leading, strategizing, and pursuing my goals that I lost sight of the very essence that drove me to begin with. I lost sight of my why. It wasn’t until I discovered Simon Sinek’s famous concept of “start with why” that I started to grasp the importance of understanding the purpose behind our actions.
What I’m learning is that effective leadership is rooted in a deep connection to my core values and motivations. That connection keeps me focused, keeps me motivated, and creates resilience in my leadership. Since knowing my why is so important, I’ve started asking myself this question on a regular basis: Have I been leading for so long that I’ve lost sight of my why?
“Why” is an important question, but it’s also a difficult question. Asking “why” slows things down. It’s easier to focus on “how” or “what” as a foundational question. I’ve discovered that when I’m asking those questions I am much more susceptible to misguided productivity. I might be getting things done, but it’s like I’m sprinting down the road without any sense of why I started running to begin with.
Granted, my drift away from purpose was accidental. I didn’t set out to lead in a disconnected way.
What I’ve learned is that everybody drifts. The pressure to meet targets, manage crises, and navigate complexities can overshadow the intrinsic motivations that inspired us to lead in the first place. As leaders, we must understand the nature of this threat. Our “why” will always be naturally moving away from us, and we are responsible to keep it at the center of our work, our organization, and our personal life.Dr. Ben Redmond
So what do we do? How do we stay connected? I’m sure there are lots of answers to this question, but I’ll share my one simple tactic.
I hit the pause button.
In the middle of the chaos, pressure, and busyness, I forced myself to take an opportunity to reflect on the values that sparked my initial enthusiasm for leadership. When I started this journey, I wanted to make a difference, to cultivate positive change, and to empower others. These things represented my driving force, and I forced myself to reconnect with these passions.
You might be thinking to yourself that hitting pause is something that you can’t afford. I get it, because I felt that way for much of my career. What I’ve learned, however, is that understanding my “why” is not a luxury – it’s a necessity. When I hit pause, it gives me the space to reflect, to remember, and to recalibrate my actions based against my true purpose.
So do yourself a favor this week – hit the pause button. Use the time to revisit past successes and challenges or identify pivotal moments that shaped your leadership philosophy. Spend some time recognizing the impact you want to have on our teams and organizations. Remember why you started down this path. As you reconnect with your why, you will find a renewed sense of purpose in your leadership style, inspiring both yourself and those you lead.
A final thought. This process works best if you involve your trusted inner circle. Input from the truth-tellers in your life will provide perspective that you might not find on your own. In other words, share your purpose with others, and ask them to give you feedback if you’re getting too far away from your “why.”
Need some help or resources to guide you along the process? Start here.