Start with Your WHY (Your Motivation)

Related 1: Welcome to the Agile Leadership Practice
Related 2:Agile Leadership: Values & Pitfalls

Start with WHY by Simon Sinek is one of my favorite books when starting to help teams and organizations become successful and accomplish their vision. The reason is that knowing your WHY (your motivation) and using it to build your plan around your WHY is the first step to success. There is a lot more to it than that so I will outline the other steps as this blog unfolds; remember that the longest journey starts with the first step. WHY you are taking that first step matters immensely in ensuring your success on the journey. A great synopsis of the first few chapters of the book can be found in Simon’s TED talk. As with many books, I sometimes feel that the theses of the book are used to post-rationalize successes or failures. In my view, it’s more informative to view stories of success and failure in a broader context, e.g. looking at all the factors rather than just the factor that the author is trying to highlight. This book is intended to provide a roadmap to help define the motivation for your endeavor. It does not have all the answers but it does aim to make helpful suggestions. The first few chapters of Simon’s book eloquently set forth that almost every group knows WHAT they are doing: building the next killer app, climbing Mt. Everest, fighting for equality for all. And to a large extent, most know HOW they are doing it: by working harder, being smarter, etc. But very few know WHY they are doing it, beyond the simple answer of we can or George Mallory’s famous statement “Because it is there”. What Simon’s thesis is (and I agree with it completely) is that we are emotionally and biologically driven to follow people who share our motivation. That is our WHY! Apple, Inc. does not start with telling you the features of its product, Apple starts with WHY they do what they do which is “To challenge the status quo!”. Nothing exemplifies that more than the 1984 super bowl commercial. How many of you know of the commercial? (I would guess a lot.) How many of you know the final score of that game? (Probably only a few of you.) What that ad did is not only show us that Apple wants to challenge the status quo, it also showed us who we are and asked us if we are content with that. At its core, the Agile Leadership Practice is the practice of building an organization that can lead itself by inspiring stakeholders with their WHY, helping them participate in the HOW and empowering them to decide on the WHAT.

  • WHY = Your Motivation/Vision (Hardly ever changes)
  • HOW = Your Values/ Mission (Changes infrequently and usually only due to significant changes in cultural norms, technologies, etc.)
  • WHAT = Your Goals/ The manifestation of your Motivation and your Values (Changes and evolves with time and increased knowledge)
Nobody Runs the Boston Marathon without a really good WHY

These are the first steps on the path to success. While there’s a lot of hard work to be done to reach that goal, it is a great way to set your team up for success. In the next post, I will start talking about how this all fits into leadership. Have you ever been in a situation where nobody knows WHY they are there and exactly what they are doing? Or just as bad, everyone has a different understanding of WHY they are there and what they are doing? My favorite WHY that I have been involved with recently is this: “We have a passion for inspiring, supporting and helping our community become happier and healthier” Please share WHY statements that have either resonated with you or been off-putting.

Related 1: Start With WHY for Leaders
Related 2: The Most Influential Book You Never Heard Of


2 thoughts on “Start with Your WHY (Your Motivation)

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