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Why your why isn’t enough on its own

Why is why important?

It’s well documented how important it is to have a clear purpose. Knowing your why helps you to motivate, prioritise and influence. (Simon Sinek; Switch). When people come to coaching because they are feeling demotivated, stressed or overwhelmed, starting with their big why can be a really powerful way of getting out of the weeds, working out what is really important and starting to feel more energised.

But, what I’ve come to realise having worked across multiple teams and from hundreds of hours of coaching is:

  • There is more than one why; and they are all important, and

  • The motivating power of our why has to be balanced with the grounding reality of our needs.

More than one why

On a recent dog walk I was pondering all the whys that are important to us when we lead a team.

  • Our personal why – the thing that drives us forward in our life and work

  • Our team why – the thing that the team we lead exists for

  • Our organisational why – the thing our organisation exists for

And as I pondered this I realised that as leaders we must operate at the intersection of these whys:

If any of these whys are out of alignment or in conflict it becomes difficult to lead effectively. When we can be motivated towards our own why within the team and organisational context we experience high levels of satisfaction through our work. If there is a mis-alignment everything is going to feel hard and less rewarding.

Some may argue that the organisational why should trump all other whys in a work context but I believe this is unrealistic and unhelpful. We all have implicit motivators that drive us in our work and career, we should not be expected to leave these behind when we go to work. Especially as it is through work that many of us move towards our big why.

Rather it is when we can connect our why with the why of the organisation and team we operate in that we experience mutually beneficial and rewarding outcomes.

When we are purpose driven and work for purpose driven organisations this complementarity can seem clear and it can be deeply rewarding and motivating.

As a leader we can provide inspiring, motivating and powerful leadership for others from the intersection of these whys. Modelling high levels of motivation and connecting the work of the team very clearly to the purpose of the organisation all comes together to create an energising and motivational working environment. When we connect with our why we connect at an emotional level which is incredibly powerful for influencing others and driving change.

But, as powerful as the motivation of Why is, it is not enough on its own.

Grounded in needs

The Why is like the North star guiding us forward, providing us with clarity, helping us to prioritise what’s most important and what we can leave behind. And, when it is highly motivating or we feel a strong emotional connection to that why, it can become all consuming. We can lose touch with what else is important because we are so thoroughly committed to the cause we are serving, the change we are making, the world we want to create.

So as well as the Whys it is essential that we ground ourselves in the needs. And in just the same way these needs are multiple.

Your personal needs – what do you need to keep you grounded, well and at your best?

Your team needs – what does the team need in order to deliver?

Your organisational needs – what does the organisation need in order to succeed?

And again, as leaders we need to operate at the intersection of these needs. If we don’t look after our own needs we will exhaust ourselves and burnout. If we don’t tend to the needs of the team they will be unable to deliver to their goals. If we are unaware of the needs of the organisation, and how we and our team can support these needs, we will hit roadblocks and struggle to deliver.

When we are passionate about our impact in the world it can easy to let the why dominate everything. But without the needs being taken care of we just won’t move towards that why.

How clear are you on the why for each of these areas. How aligned are you to them and how aligned are they to each other. Where is the sweet spot?

And how clear are you on the needs of each of these areas? How are these being met? What might need to change to ensure those needs can be met? How will this help to move you towards your why?


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