The question ‘why’ is at the heart of what makes us human. It’s led us to evolve unlike any other living organism on the planet, to create languages, build skyscrapers and explore space. And it starts at an early age. Remember your toddler’s insatiable appetite for the ‘why’?
Why is the sky blue?
Well, because there are lots of little molecules in the air that scatter blue light.
Without missing a beat, Why?
How often does that conversation end with an exasperated “Because I say so!”?
In the business world, ‘why’ has been replaced by ‘what’. What’s the plan for today? What tasks do I have to complete?
This creates a focus on getting things done with management marshalling resources accordingly. For day-to-day operation this status quo is certainly necessary. It ensures work flows through the business, tasks are completed, customers are serviced and hopefully, a profit is made.
Quite often this creates a structure where leaders do the thinking and the rest of the company implement their plan. But how much knowledge do you lose if the people implementing your plan are not able to feedback on its success?
Another way to look at it would be a business that creates a product, delivers it to market but doesn’t monitor customer reviews, sales or returns as a way of addressing issues.
As leaders we need people with an innate sense of curiosity. People who challenge thinking and want to understand the results we are looking for, not just the tasks that need completing. Only then can we create an effective feedback loop where new processes are put in place, tried and the results are reported on so further improvements can be made.
Creating a Purpose
To challenge this traditional approach leaders need to invite others to join them on a journey rather than providing a checklist of tasks.
Creating a purpose is one such invitation which becomes a key driver for improved performance. Not only that, it truly unifies and inspires employees from top to bottom. Purpose hooks into our emotional desire to be part of something, to make a difference.
Where does the What fit in now?
While the why has become the driving force behind modern leadership, that’s not to say the what and the how don’t have roles to play. They certainly do. The what is self-explanatory and hasn’t changed much over the decades. It’s that absolute focus on execution, on action, on delivery. Without it businesses would be all theory and no ‘doing’.
If why is key to leadership, what is at the heart of management and it plays a crucial role in keeping the cogs of progress turning. It’s about establishing and maintaining shared control. Building a consistent rhythm of tracking and reporting on performance against expectations.
The final piece of the jigsaw, How
So now we’ve got what and why in sync, does that mean it’s job done? Not quite. You know where you’re going, and you’ve established what needs to be done but there’s one more piece of the jigsaw. How you’re going to get there.
Effective leadership means you don’t need to be the top performer; rather, you’re the guide, and the how is your opportunity to develop your team. To mentor them. This is where you offer your team the chance to take on responsibility and ask ‘why’, knowing you’ve got their back and you’re not setting them up to fail.
Mentoring requires a certain amount of patience however. You’ll sometimes already have an answers (not the answer just an answer), but you’ll gain something far more valuable if you hold back and let your team discover answers for themselves. Because it’s here that they use their ‘on the ground’ knowledge to provide different answers to you. And it’s these answers that might result in you uncovering a better way of doing things.