My two-year-old has recently begun asking questions of “Why?” “Why can’t I sleep with the light on?” “Why are boys different than girls?” “Why is my birthday in June?” And, most recently, “Why do you go to work?” Beyond the easy answer, “To make money,” this is a challenging, yet insightful question.
Last week at the Women’s Foodservice Forum conference in Dallas, Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, provided some insight on this topic. Sinek described how people, both employees and customers, are loyal to organizations because of their emotional connection to the why of the organization. Organizations who present a compelling vision and purpose give people the answer to the question, “why should I follow you?” For example, people are loyal to Apple because their products enable you to “think different.” Employees and customers are loyal to Southwest because of their commitment to making things simple and fun, and being different from the “other guys.”
The idea of why also applies to why people work, yet few of us have taken the time to identify our own personal why. Three years ago, my husband quit his sales job to go to the Sieble Institute in Chicago, also known as “beer school” (yes there is such a thing!). He is now the brew master at a local pub in Colorado and is a constant example to me of someone who has figured out his why. He works to bring people pleasure through his craft, by using his hands and creativity making things that bring others joy. He loves the challenge of creating something that people might not have thought they would have liked otherwise. Nothing is more satisfying to him than seeing others enjoying his beer.
As leaders, we have two important why questions to answer. First, we need to understand our own individual whys. Why do we work? When we know what is motivating and inspiring to us, we can structure our work so that we are able to bring the best of ourselves to the office every day. Second, it is our responsibility to create a compelling vision of why that employees and customers can connect with emotionally. Being able to dream of a future that does not yet exist, and communicate that vision in a compelling way allows employees and customers to unite around a clear purpose that motivates and inspires us to overcome challenges, be flexible and be fully engaged. So the next time you are considering your next career move or working on setting strategic direction, ask yourself why.