Let's dig deeper.

Start with WHY

We have lots of little catchphrases that help check our value-based approach to business. One of the widest nets we cast is the phrase, “start with Why.” This week, we’re digging into what that means and what its embodiment looks like in a leader.

What it means: motivation is the most important part of accomplishment. We can do almost anything if we are sufficiently motivated. HOW, WHAT, and WHO are solvable problems; logistical questions that can be planned, figured out, and ultimately answered. WHY is subjective. It is individual, unique to each of us, and by far the most powerful part of a project. If you can answer “WHY?” you can accomplish the rest.

I couldn’t talk about the power of WHY without, of course, talking about my hair. I am currently sporting a mohawk haircut dyed every color of the rainbow. It is my proudest moment as a manager.

Last summer, my team challenged me: if our location had 1,500 Google reviews by the end of the year, I would get a rainbow mohawk. We had just hit 1,000 reviews – the challenge was to raise our total by 50% in about 1/6th the time. But numbers, and timing, are questions of HOW. My team had found their WHY. On December 28th, 2019, we ended the day at 1,503 Google Reviews, and my fate was sealed: I would be getting a rainbow mohawk.

While I get to wear the fruits of our labor, the whole ordeal was a team effort – from idea to accomplishment. My pride comes from being part of a team that finds such a strong and creative WHY. As a leader, I am beyond proud my team harnessed the power of WHY. I proudly wear this mohawk as proof.

The role of a leader is not to solve every problem, or answer every question. The leader’s focus is setting the team up for success. Motivation is the biggest part of success that we can affect. For that reason, leadership’s first and most important piece is keeping the team motivated.

We are going to focus on two great leaders to show how important “WHY” can be: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Pat Summitt. In different fields, with wildly contrasting teams, each was a legendary leader because of their grasp of WHY.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is unquestionably one of history’s greatest leaders. He led millions of oppressed people against leviathans of injustice. What actions of his come to mind? Most of us likely cannot recall what direct actions he took with lawmakers or what his organizational process was to bring people together and turn their passion into progress. It’s his words, thoughts, ideas, letters, and of course, dreams, that are etched in our hearts. When we think of Dr. King, we don’t think about replicating his actions and approaching problems the same way he did. We think of his ideals, we become motivated, and we approach our problems fueled by inspiration.

Coaches, though less impactful than civil rights leaders, may apply more to business. Coaches are the motivational leader of a team, but they are also in charge of gameplans, film studies, and strategy – big questions of WHO and HOW. Pat Summitt is one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time. What do you know about her? Her accolades – awards, titles, and win totals – may stick out. Her gameplans and strategies are likely gospel to like minds in basketball, but to outsiders Pat Summitt is famous for her “Summitt Stare” (there’s a whole section on it in her Wikipedia article).

Summitt’s remarkable career is not defined by her brilliant recruiting and assembling world-class rosters (finding her WHO), or in drawing up plays and schemes to maximize her team’s abilities (finding her HOW). She is famous for being the quality of leader that can remind you of your WHY without speaking. WHY you will play your hardest defense late in the game. WHY you are playing for the team and not making selfish decisions with the ball. WHY you care about giving your best effort to the team. Even in a role dependent on specific challenges and measurable standards, Pat Summitt climbed to new heights because her team could always answer, “WHY?”

We may not be leading battles against oppression or winning national championship trophies, but we look to the highest levels of leadership when we build our approach as a team. We think it makes us better. Why not give it a try? Ask yourself, “why am I doing this?” Some answers may seem less grand than others. At times our WHY might be “paying the bills.” At times, it is simply, “I like doing this.” There are no right or wrong answers – as long as you know your WHY, you can climb to any height. That’s why we like to “Start with WHY.”


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