Happy Year of the Rooster! 2016 was a good year for True Development. As Training Director at True Development, I am deeply grateful for our office team, our training delivery partners, our clients, and participants in our programs. I personally think the best part of building a business you love is the connections you make with people along the way, and the things you learn from them.
Discovering the Importance
In the most effective leadership development programs I am involved with, I don’t give much advice or make many suggestions. Leaders come to their own conclusions about the truth of things and the best way forward, using the coaching or training session as a platform for doing so. Realizing these truths are magical moments for everyone involved, including me.
One of my favorite moments to observe in any leader’s personal development journey is the moment when the leader discovers how important it is to talk about the WHY of things.
I don’t think anyone would say it isn’t important to talk about WHY. WHY clarifies the purpose of a task, a goal, or a project. It gives meaning to the work at hand. The reason leaders don’t deeply feel the importance of WHY earlier in their careers is primarily the result of environmental factors: KPIs, performance management efforts, urgent issues and customer requests, personal ambitions, and pressure from the boss. All are part of a normal work life and necessary to produce value as an organization. But they also have the effect of hiding the importance of communicating with people about the reason WHY they are fighting so hard to make things happen.
I can think of at least a dozen examples of participants in leadership development or coaching programs who discovered that talking about WHY was missing from most of their one on one conversations and team meetings and started regularly bringing WHY into these interactions. Within a week or two, they saw a difference in motivation, engagement and happiness levels on their teams.
WHY is not enough to get people excited about performing at a high level, but without WHY, it is difficult to achieve and sustain a high level of team and individual performance.
The reason to talk about WHY is simple: Because the people we lead need to understand the importance, the urgency, and the meaning of something in order to do it with the level of passion that brings success.If we forget to talk about WHY, we are missing the opportunity to turn a routine task into something valuable and important.
A few years ago, we started getting requests for programs that help managers lead and engage Millenials (Gen Y). I started doing research on the topic to see what the experts say. I found a lot of information about the global situation, but very little specific information about Millenials in Taiwan. I mentioned this to some of our team members, and one of them, Holly, took time out of her weekend to find me a recent graduate school thesis that provided several insights. She even took the time to summarize the key points for me so I didn’t have to read through the whole paper. Later, one of our other team members, Mercury, came up with a list of four recent Gen Y research reports in Taiwan and gave it to me. We were missing one of them. Once again, Holly took time on the weekend to find and copy the missing paper.
Why did Holly do this? In large part because she is a responsible, committed, and proactive team member. She also did it because she understands how important it is for us to have specific research on this subject for the HR partners and leaders in our geographic area. She knows that at True Development, we put strong value on having accurate and fresh research to support our training designs. Knowing WHY it was important triggered action in someone who is motivated and dedicated. It can also trigger motivation in less committed people if they buy into the reason for a task.
When and How to Talk about WHY
To be clear, I don’t suggest that you start spending all of your time talking about WHY. Most of our conversations as leaders are still going to focus on the WHAT and HOW parts of the work. I am suggesting that you do not leave WHY out of any important conversation, especially where motivation is an important factor.
● You assigned a task to one team member and not another. Why?
● You delegated an important project to one team member. Why?
● You want better compliance on a particular SOP. Why?
● You want someone to put more effort into work. Why?
● You want someone to be more supportive of colleagues. Why?
● You have asked someone to handle a challenging assignment. Why?
● You want someone to complete a task alone instead of asking you to do it. Why?
As for how to talk about WHY, for a WHY to be meaningful, it must inspire the other person in some way. The only way to inspire another person is to understand what they care about and link it to the task at hand. For example, I find zero value in paperwork. I would rather clean toilets than do paperwork, and I’m not very good at it. Colleagues who understand me will never say: “True, I need that report by Friday.” Instead, they will say: “True, if you can give me that report by Friday, it will make life much easier for me.” They know I care about how my behavior impacts others. Talking about the WHY of the task in this way inspires me to complete the task on time and at a high quality standard.
Don’t Forget Your Own WHY
Sometimes we are so busy thinking about how to inspire others that we forget to inspire ourselves. At many moments during the past year, I felt pushed nearly to exhaustion and was tempted at times to rely on my experience to get through a program, rather than really committing to it from the heart and giving 100%. What kept me going (aside from regular exercise and a lot of coffee), was a little mantra I keep repeating before every important meeting, before every coaching session, and before each training or teambuilding event: “True, you do this to serve the good people in the room. That’s important. Go and serve people.”That is my personal WHY for the work I do, and it sustains me more than anything anyone else could say to me.
Don’t forget to identify your personal WHY.If you have a hard time doing it, get some coaching (you can always email me or stop by the office for a chat and I’ll help you figure it out), or consider finding a job that involves a WHY that inspires you.
Yours in Learning,