Why…Does it Matter?

Several years ago, I was introduced to the leadership speaker Simon Sinek and his famous TED Talk, “Start With Why,” which has millions of views on YouTube. He followed up this popular topic with a book by the same name. So, what’s the big deal about this seemingly simple concept around the word “why,” and how do you apply it?

The concept really is as simple as it seems, and perhaps because of its simplicity, it is often overlooked or taken for granted. Sinek’s point is that most companies, and people, understand what they are doing. Some even understand how they do it, but very few companies understand why they do what they do. He uses the example of the Wright Brothers being the first in flight, despite others being better resourced and well funded. Sinek asserts that the Wright brothers were motivated by the drive to be the first in flight, and that “why” propelled them to success despite others having greater advantages.

To get you thinking about how to apply this idea in your work and life, I’ll ask a few questions:

1. Do you know why you do what you’re doing, whether it is a company mission or the reason you’re doing some plant projects?
2. Does your team know what that “why” is?
3. Does your team understand that “why,” and are they committed to it?

Can you clearly answer all three of these questions, or have you skipped the “why” and gone right to the “what” and “how”? If you can’t answer yes, you’ve likely skipped or not reinforced that “why” enough. Often times, explaining “why” once isn’t enough. It must be repeated and reinforced.

One thing that Sinek doesn’t cover in his TED Talk is the importance of to whom you are communicating the “why.” Leaders need to consider which stakeholders need to fully understand and buy into the “why.” If you don’t understand this crucial element, you may be alienating key people who could help your project or company be successful. They may even be undermining the “why” and not even know it.

“Start with why” is a key concept that often gets overlooked when starting a project, changing an organization’s structure, making a hire, or in virtually any key decision. When stakes and emotions are high, having people know, understand, and be committed to why you’re doing what you’re doing will go a long way to ensuring success. Skip this critical step, and everyone may be going in a different direction than you are. Do this well, and you’ll have a team that is aligned, bought into the direction you’re going, and one which will help reinforce that direction to others on their team.

Daren Dieleman, Director of Project Delivery