You have big goals in mind.
You want to be the person known for getting results. Big results.
In order to do that, you want to get the best out of your people. You need to get the best out of them.
When everybody is working hard and working together as a team, it’s wonderful. It’s powerful.
But the effort, just like the results, seems inconsistent. Just when you feel like you’re getting traction, it gets wobbly. And sometimes, it goes completely off the rails.
There’s such a stark contrast to the effort when everyone is on auto pilot (and seemingly doing the minimum necessary) and when they ratchet up to the “whatever it takes” effort. You can feel the difference and you can certainly see it in the results.
If you could only find a way to consistently get your team members to function at that high level.
I think you can.
By applying Why³. Yes, that is Why cubed.
To explain the idea and help you drive the concept through three different areas of your company, I’m going to illustrate it through three characters:
- A Sinek
- A monkey
- You. Not you today, not now, but your three-year-old self.
Each plays a critical role in creating a high performing team. Delivering high level results. Which positively reflects on the leadership. Your leadership.
Take a Sinekal Approach
Simon Sinek’s presentation “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” is one of the most watched TED Talks of all time. It explores the content that Sinek would capture in his best-selling book Start With Why. He describes what great companies and great leaders do to be successful and why it is so rare.
Every company on the planet knows what they do — the product or service that they sell. Some know how they do it and can verbalize this in explaining how they are different or why they are better. Sinek contends that only a few know their “Why,” or why they exist — their cause or overriding purpose.
Great leaders start with the Why and work outwardly, towards the how and the what. It allows them to hire people for whom this cause will resonate, or as Sinek says, “people who will believe what you believe.”
He uses the approach of Martin Luther King as an example. King painted a vision of the future. He shared what it was that he believed about our country and its people. That vision and those beliefs resonated with others. His vision became their vision. They weren’t just following him, they were getting involved and taking action to make that vision a reality.
What you do proves what you believe.
It motivates you to get out of bed every day to take action.
We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe. They have an ability to make us feel like we are part of a community, something larger than ourselves. When we are part of a community that is doing something positive, that is making a difference, it inspires us. It makes us feel safe. It also makes us feel special.
When employees have a sense of belonging, and of doing meaningful work (that contributes to an aspirational vision)they are more likely to seek solutions and consider innovations for the greater good.
Great leaders communicate the Why consistently and passionately. They (and their employees) will not just work harder, but seek opportunities consistent with the Why. It creates momentum, and it makes it easier for everyone to handle day to day challenges and setbacks.
Clarity of purpose — your Why — needs to be communicated by you repeatedly. Passionately.
The Why becomes a great filter through which to evaluate opportunities. Is it consistent with our Why? Will it accelerate our progress? Or will it distract us from our core and confuse the marketplace and our employees?
When leaders can succinctly verbalize their purpose into a simple statement, it can provide focus and a rallying cry.
A few purpose statements that let everyone know what is important:
- Tesla — “We exist to accelerate the planet’s transition to sustainable energy.”
- Netflix: “To entertain the world.”
- Nordstrom: “To give customers the most compelling shopping experience possible.”
- New Story: “We pioneer solutions to end global homelessness.”
If you view these as a statement of purpose for the organization, as something that exists on a poster in the headquarters conference room; but isn’t shared by the CEO, the leadership team and all the employees, then it is pretty hollow.
On the other hand, when that purpose is shared by leaders, employees and customers — then it is REAL. It is powerful.
Employees join you because they believe what you believe.
Customers pick you, because they too believe what you believe. Your Why builds loyalty.
It energizes you and your energy becomes infectious — inside and outside your organization.
Take a Lesson from The Monkey
Nigel Risner is a motivational speaker, corporate turnaround specialist and author of several business books. He’s also a monkey. He’ll admit that proudly.
The first time I met Nigel, he asked one of the most profound questions I’ve ever heard. He stood before a dozen CEOs at a Vistage meeting and asked, “Why do people come to work?”
The CEOs began firing back responses.
“To pay their bills.”
“For social interaction.”
“To feel a sense of worth.”
“To take care of their families.”
To each response, Nigel gave a shrug of his shoulders and said, “Maybe.”
Answers continued to come and he had the same response. A shrug. “Maybe.”
After a few bizarre answers to which he responded, “Not likely,” the room became silent.
Nigel paused and said, “All of your employees come to work…to get their needs met.”
After he let that idea marinate for several seconds, he said, “It is your job as a leader to identify what those needs are for each of your employees. Only then can you determine how you can meet those needs, or if you can meet those needs at all inside your company.”
Hopefully, the overarching business purpose that Simon Sinek described gets people motivated to get up every day and come to your company to follow you as a leader.
But whether they will stay engaged and be fulfilled while they’re there is impacted by the degree to which you are meeting their needs.
Nigel went on to describe the challenges of communicating to employees who are wired very differently, which you can find in his book, It’s a Zoo Around Here.
This necessitates being intentional about why, and to whom, you communicate the way you do. Sometimes an adjustment needs to be made in your delivery. How you communicate.
For those familiar with DISC profiles, Nigel segments people into
- Lions (D) — competitive, results-oriented, want to win, don’t want to be taken advantage of
- Monkeys (I) — spontaneous, optimistic, energetic, move fast, don’t want to be left out
- Dolphins (S) — supportive, encouraging, good listeners, don’t like conflict
- Elephants © — detailed, precise and process-driven, don’t want to be wrong
Nigel himself is a certifiable monkey that will entertain you, make you laugh and tell great stories. Is he someone who wants to sit in a meeting, look at piles of detailed files and keep his mouth shut? He’d go crazy. His head might explode.
Which is why you can’t communicate with all your employees in the same style, with the content and pace that works best for you.
The latter is an example of the Golden Rule — do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.
But Nigel will tell you that the Platinum Rule is necessary for effective leadership — do unto others as they would want you to do unto them.
Speak in their language. Communicate in the manner that resonates with them. Fast or slow? Focus on people or task? Verbal communication? Visual communication? Lean into conflict or avoid it?
Your goal is not to speak and write what is on your mind. Your goal is to be understood and to motivate the proper actions from your team members.
Start with a self-appraisal: Why do YOU come to work? What are YOUR needs? How can people best communicate with YOU?
Once you know what works for you, you can then focus on your direct reports. Know what drives your people. What their needs are. Know how best to communicate with them.
When you need their best efforts, this knowledge can help you create stronger relationships and lead them to perform at a high level.
Your role as a leader is to be a Zookeeper. You need to know your animals. Leading teams is not a one-size, one-style fits all. I suggest you pay attention to the monkey. He gets it.
Tap into the genius of your Three-Year-Old Self
If I told you that you hit your creative peak when you were three years old, it might send you into depression, and I’d feel terrible. So I won’t do that.
But I will tell you that there is a part of you at age three that you need to incorporate into your approach to leadership today. Don’t act like you have all the answers. Or delude yourself that your team expects you to have all the answers. Or that your processes are bullet-proof. And timeless. They’re not.
If you have children, you know that when they’re very young they’re like sponges, trying to learn about the world and assimilate what they see and experience. They’re trying to connect dots, even though their brains won’t fully develop for another twenty years.
Consequently, they have a curiosity about everything.
One of their favorite words is “Why.”
As parents, we try to answer their questions. But we are also trying to keep them safe, prepare them for school, and shuttle them off to whatever activities we think will help them “grow up.” Schools, even good ones, get them to learn the proper answers to get good grades and color inside the lines. Societal norms frown on constant questioning.
Over time, most kids lose that curiosity and desire to understand why we do what we do.
Our brains are efficiency machines, and we develop habits that conserve energy and save time.
That doesn’t always work well for gaining efficiency, improving productivity and coming up with better solutions.
As a leader, challenge convention and established processes and ways of thinking. Encourage your team to objectively look at why we do what we do, as it relates to our processes, our customer interactions and our own internal methodologies. How we conduct meetings. How we make decisions.
But go beyond merely asking, “Why do we do this?”
Keep asking why.
Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit and Smarter Better Faster, encourages what he calls the 5 Whys system. It was implemented by Sakichi Toyoda, when he founded Toyota Industries. It is included in lean manufacturing and Six Sigma quality improvement programs.
The essence of the system is to continue to ask “why” until you ultimately uncover the root cause of a problem, an inefficiency or an underperforming system.
Dean Graziosi and Tony Robbins jointly launched The Knowledge Broker Blueprint program, where they encourage participants to answer the question, “What is the goal or outcome you want?”
As people respond, they are asked Why seven times, to ultimately identify the main driver of their life.
Whether it is the Duhigg 5 Whys or the Graziosi / Robbins 7 Whys, the idea is to question processes, situations and motivations at a deeper level. There is no magical number. But keep asking Why until you get to the root cause. To the essence. To the truth.
When you balance a learning mindset and a comfort with challenging the status quo, new insights and improvements can come to light.
Some powerful Why questions for leaders can include:
“Why are we doing it like this?”
“Why do our customers buy from us?”
Why should someone want to work for us?
Why are we spending time on this topic?
Why not? (which goes along with my favorite creativity sparking question — “What if…”)
“The best leaders are not coming up with answers, they are coming up with great questions.”
— IDEO CEO Tim Brown
Continuing to challenge existing assumptions and established solutions with great questions helps you learn and gain insights.
As a leader you need to create processes and safe spaces to be able to question why you do what you do. That applies to your company, each department, individuals — including you.
When you can validate assumptions, improve processes and involve your organization in the exercise, it builds confidence. It strengthens commitment. It fosters creativity.
And then you do it all over again. Rinse and repeat.
At each iteration of improvement, growth, creativity, remember that 3 year old kid. Then go get some ice cream. It’s time to celebrate.
Why³ — the Focus of Purpose, People and Process
You’re trying to accomplish goals and be a good leader.
But the effort seems to be uneven. And so are the results.
You try to be consistent with meeting cadence and regular communications, but sometimes it seems like people aren’t listening. Or understanding.
The processes that worked so well last year, or even last week, aren’t as effective today.
Why can be a powerful basis for you to address:
What is our “Why?” Why are we in business? Why should anyone care? Simon Sinek shares the power of identifying your Why and attracting employees and customers who believe what you believe. Employees will be willing to work harder and smarter. Customers will be loyal and willing to pay more.
Why do people come to work? Nigel Risner, the monkey and Chief Zookeeper, says that employees come to get their needs met and you need to figure out what those needs are. Since you are also the Chief Zookeeper of your zoo, you also need to identify what animals are working for you — and how to speak to them in their language.
Why do we do what we do? You need to look at processes throughout your organization from top to bottom and side to side. Have the attitude of learning and wonder to ask Why. As a leader. As members on your team. Don’t fall in love with habit and history. Keep learning and growing — just like you did when you were three.
Why Cubed. Focusing on “Why” at three levels of your organization. With intentionality. To create clarity. To ensure alignment.
The three Whys build on one another. They have a multiplier effect. Yes, Why³.
When you do it consistently, you attract talent and attract customers. You will learn and so will your team.
Simon will be proud of you. The monkey will throw a party to celebrate (and then Nigel will forget Why he’s throwing it…but you’ll know). And your three-year-old self will have learned something very valuable.
Don’t forget to go get ice cream.
You deserve it.