What is Your Why?
What drives you? What motivates you? What inspires you to do the work that you do? These questions are vital in understanding how to motivate and lead your people in a human-centric way. At the root of it, it’s the answer to the age-old question: “Why were you put on this earth?” This is your personal why—a deep passion that gives you direction and meaning. And it’s not just for you. Figuring out the why of your people will help you engage them on their journey and lead them with empathy.
The concept of why as a motivating factor for people was first introduced to me in Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why. In his book, Sinek puts forward that we all have our own personal reasons for why we do what we do. He posits that for leaders to motivate their staff, they need to know what drives them to come into work every day—they need to know their people’s why. In my years as a manager, I’ve found that the best way to help folks articulate their personal why is by helping them set goals.
These goals can be personal or professional, but they are always motivated by a person’s needs, desires, and passions. As a leader, you should be able to name the specific motivating factors for each of your employees and how you can help them achieve their own goals—both at work and at home. When you understand the goals and motivations of your people, you can help them unlock their own potential and encourage them to work toward what they’ve set out to do.
A Purposed Vacation
Each January, I take the time to sit down with my people for a goal-setting exercise where everyone—leaders included—put into writing some goals they’d like to accomplish this year. One of my previous direct reports, Chris, said that his goal for the year was to take his kids to Disney World. An admirable goal, for sure, and one I was happy to help him with, but I was curious: Why Disney World? Why was that what he wanted to spend his time working toward?
Upon further reflection, Chris admitted he wanted to spend more time with his kids and create moments that would result in lasting memories for his family.
For Chris, this was his personal why. He knew in order to achieve it, though, he’d have to up his sales numbers. And if he upped his sales numbers, he’d get more commission that he could then bank for that trip. Now, I normally say that compensation doesn’t create engagement, but in Chris’s situation, money was something he needed to achieve a deeper goal: to spend more time with his family. He had his goal set, and together we mapped out what he needed to do to achieve it. In this way, we directly linked the work he was doing every day to what he needed to do to get to Disney.
Connecting the Dots, Bringing the Future into Focus
By creating manageable goals, they know that their work is connected to some bigger achievement and that leadership will have their back in reaching those goals. While for some folks, their why might be a promotion or a different position within a company, others might have different goals that exist outside the walls of your organization—likely they’ll have both. It’s your job as a leader to help connect the dots between what your employees are doing now, what they will do in the future, and how their actions will help them toward their why. In making these links, you motivate your people to do good work in a way that feels authentic to their own personal why.
When you work with your people to identify their why and set their goals, you act as a vision caster for them—showing them a future that could be. Your team is made up of many individuals, each with their own potential guided by their unique wants, needs, passions, and desires. In order to lead like a human, you should know that your people are humans as well. They want to be unlocked to do the best work they can, and it’s your job to help show them the way.
To learn more about how setting goals can bring out the best in your organization, check out my book Lead Like a Human. You can find it here. In the book, I go deeper into how you can map out goals with your people, tie their goals to company purpose, and hold them accountable on the way to achieving their personal why.