Coach’s Corner Blog

What Is Your WHY? How Purpose Should Shape Our Actions

October 16, 2014 by 1 Comment


I am not sure how many of you that read this own an iPhone, but I bet the percentage is pretty high. Others that favor Samsung or even Blackberry might have different allegiances, but Apple has asked suppliers of the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, which starts shipping this Friday, to produce 80 million by the end of 2014. Pre-orders for China account for 20 million of that. 80 MILLION!

HOW can Apple do this? By designing elegant products that are feature laden and easy to use.

WHAT does it do so well? It creates and manufactures great computers and phones.

WHY is the world lining up for Apple products? Because it has consistently challenged the status quo and dared to think differently about what it produces for its customers… and this sense of purpose is critical to how we all should look at our work.

I was recently referred to a TED Talk by Simon Sinek called Start with Why and he laid out the case for what leaders should be focused on and gave the WHY, HOW and WHAT for Apple that I referred to above. The bulls-eye of that model is the WHY and it is the key leadership focus for everything we should do.

WHY Model

Sinek made a wonderful distinction that really resonated with me. He said Leaders often had organizational power and authority and relied on those levers of power to drive the HOW and WHAT that gets accomplished. But “Those Who Lead” inspire us to follow them because we buy into the WHY they share with us. We want to follow them because we want to do so for us and what that WHY means for us, not them.

Sinek also stated that Martin Luther King did not say he had a PLAN; but that he had a DREAM; and that is what people wanted to follow. They may have admired his speeches or his non-violent approach, but his followers also wanted to live in a country where everyone was treated fairly, regardless of the color of their skin. He challenged the status quo to create a new WHY.

But leading change requires that you reinforce the WHY and what’s in it for everyone. Coincidentally, I am currently reading the third part of Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy, The Edge of Eternity, and it covers the southern Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights movement in 1961 – 62, the followers of Martin Luther King. These were some brave and determined people but most importantly they had a WHY that they believed in. It is historical fiction but it showed how leaders must consistently reinforce the WHY and they must be relentless about it.

I was impressed with Mr. Sinek’s TED Talk and it made me think about my leadership experiences and the challenges I see with many of my clients. I can think of several key organizational changes I led in my career and in the two companies I have owned. I realize I often spent most of my time focused on the HOW and the WHAT and failed to leverage the WHY to gain support and build upon it as we progressed. The WHY is the purpose, cause or belief that creates the impetus for doing something. It can’t be just to make more money or gain market share but has to challenge us beyond that.

Why did I choose to not focus on the WHY? Because I relied on my organizational power and authority to sell the change and then I chose to make the implementation as smooth and flawless as possible. I was also probably afraid of new objections that might crop up about the initiative after we began implementation and avoided not having to defend the WHY for the changes I was leading.

I recently sat in with a client that was conducting a leadership review of its portfolio companies. The purpose for these investments is to add talent, systems, expertise and support to help the companies realize their promise in their market. Ultimately, they will be sold to other firms who can build on their success. Each company has a well thought out Path to Value (PTV) to help them focus on exploiting their promise. What was interesting was that apparently there was a bit of a scramble to get the current Path to Value for each company accurately stated for the review.

Now, things change all the time in the marketplace, but the PTV impacts each company’s WHY and HOW. It struck me that a lack of clarity here can be an issue for everyone involved in grooming these companies for success.

So I ask you:

  • What is your WHY? What is your purpose or cause for doing what you do?
  • Have you reinforced this to your team and updated your own Path to Value?
  • Do you hide behind your HOW and WHAT in lieu of reinforcing your WHY?

I realize that often our work may never seem significant enough to warrant a reinforcement of its WHY. But I also believe leaders can only lead effectively when they align folks to a path of value, a purpose or just a learning experience they can rally around.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments. Please share your experiences or ideas with us all in the comments section at the end of this post.

Photo Credit: Corey Leopold


Sign up for my blog updates and never miss a post. I’ll send you a FREE eBook as a thank you.
  • By signing up you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy.


    tim zeffiro October 16, 2014, 10:09 pm

    good article good questions!

    Love you dude!



Leave a Comment