The All-Important Question of Why?


Simon Sinek has written a thought-provoking book titled, “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” . In this book, Sinek states that most companies define themselves by describing what they do instead of why they are in business. Sinek argues that the companies that focus on the why deliver superior returns to their shareholders in the longer term compared to their competitors .

Focusing on what a company does is a natural left-brain response. The language center of the brain resides in the neocortex and so it is relatively easy to describe in words what your organization does. Typical responses are: “We manufacture widgets” or “We deliver high quality services to the high end of the market” or “We offer low prices and high value to our customers” or “We utilize our superior logistical infrastructure to bring exceptional value to our customers”.  There’s nothing wrong with these answers but the problem is that they lack any emotional punch. They fail to resonate with employees and customers.

Focusing on why a company is in business is the key to attracting and retaining top talent and customers. A company’s why connects to the brain’s emotional center (limbic system) which is essential in creating long term employee and customer loyalty. The why focuses on the organization’s main purpose, cause or belief to which a core group of employees and customers relate. These core employees and customers will be able to describe what the company does but this will not result in establishing longer term loyalty. It is when employees and customers link their core values and beliefs to the company’s why that they establish an emotional bond and a connection for life. It is the key reason that organizations such as Apple, Harley-Davidson, Zappos, Disney, Google, Southwest Airlines and Starbucks continue to thrive even though their products and services aren’t really superior to those of their competitors. These companies attract employees and customers who deeply connect with their whys - establishing fierce loyalties that last a lifetime. This is the key to long term profitability – connecting with employees and customers who connect with the company’s why and who will not leave despite the existence of superior competitive products, pricing and promotions.

It is clear that the what of my business (Myelin Leadership) revolves around developing leaders. However, many other competitors will say the same thing. Then I thought about Myelin’s why and I realize that we exist to inspire managers to challenge existing management practices to create company cultures in which they, their peers and direct reports and organizations will flourish and thrive . We want to work with dynamic and forward-thinking managers who  1. aren’t afraid to challenge existing processes and paradigms, 2. want to inspire others with exciting visions of the future and 3. understand the value of empowering others to achieve great results.

What is your company’s why ? What is your own personal why ? These are the most important leadership questions that anyone can ask him/herself.

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