Workers making notes on a business report among other paperwork

I have been reflecting a lot on the conversations I hear in a lot of executive teams, meetings and discussions with staff in government organisations and projects.  This is through being part of what I do in reviewing organisations and projects and seeking whether their leaders, practices and systems are driving high performance.  It is a job with a lot of variety and privilege given that you get to benchmark and learn from others.

What is very apparent to me is the lack of people discussing or drilling down to why something is the way it is.  Why are we doing this?  Why is this important?  Why did we do this in the past?  Why do we need to consult with these key people?  Why do we focus on the clients we do?  All good questions but very rarely asked by people.

What is more prevalent is a lot of discussion taking place around what we need to do or how.  What is the focus?  What are the immediate priorities?  What has been achieved?  How do we need to do it?  How will this work?  How will we deliver this?   These are very common and widely asked questions from leaders when they are interacting with staff, peers and stakeholders on a day to day basis.

The opportunity that leaders are missing by failing to connect people with the why is significant.  Simon Sineck explained the importance of the why far better than me in his widely watched Ted talk on the importance of why through the golden circle, which you can watch here. He really honed in on the fact that this in a lot of ways is the most important asset a leader can have if they really engage and connect around the why.

The main reason for this being so powerful is that people do not shift or engage in their thinking with you until they get the why.  They need to get why exercise is so important for us, why this piece of work is critical for our company, why we are running with a particular strategy or even why we are not doing something.  They will be thinking about this even if you have moved on to the how or what of a situation without adequately explaining the why.  You have then effectively lost them or not engaged them which leads to misalignment, or a lack of understanding as to why something is important.  This increases the ability of key items not being delivered, committed to or understood.   All because we tend to be comfortable with the technical elements of a challenge or problem rather than understanding human nature which is getting them understanding first why this is important to them, us or the organisation.

Revisit your approach to working through challenges one on one or in group settings.  Really hone in on how you get clear on everyone understanding the why before you move on to the how and what.  Your ability to engage will improve along with the deliverables or actions you are expecting from others.