Leaders Inspire Action by Asking “Why”. Why? Read on!

Feb 8, 2011Coaching, Creativity & Innovation, Leadership, Leadership Development, Professional Development

The other week I had a great conversation with a digital advertising industry expert, Adam Kleinberg of Traction. We shared ideas and thoughts on all sort of subjects like creativity, innovation, leadership etc.  It was an all around great conversation that left me inspired.

He told me about how his recent approach of starting with “ why” had made a difference in his recent client meeting.   In fact, he  blogged about it. It reminded me of a Ted.com talk I saw by Simon Shrek that I found extremely thought provoking.   In it, Simon talks about how companies that are successful market their products or services by starting with the “why” and not the “what”. ”

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” is the foundation of Simon’s talk.  It’s worth checking out.

Although he’s talking about marketing products and services, it got me thinking about how this applies to individual leadership as well.  I think there’s something really important here.  As leaders, perhaps people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.    After all isn’t it the “why” that makes someone an inspirational leader?    We typically want to follow people when we feel or experience their passion, their drive, their vision.   It’s contagious.

And yet I believe that in this complex, over-worked, stressful, 24/7 working world, our primary focus tends to be on the “what”.  “What” do I need to get done today? “What” is worth my time?  “What” am I creating?  “What will make my company more successful”?

What happens when we start with “why”?   “Why” do I need to get this done today?  “Why” is this worth my time?  “Why” am I creating this? “Why” will what I’m doing make the company more successful”.   Notice how it compels you to pause and get curious about what your doing at a deeper level.  It helps you connect to the bigger picture, purpose and meaning.

Practice asking “why” several times a day.

I asked Adam why innovation was so important to the company he runs.  I got lots of reasons and  answers that impacted me…..in fact, long enough time that I’m writing about it weeks later.

Ask “why”.