So You Want Me to Change? The WHY!
These are just some of the WHY questions I’ve heard when leading change projects and programmes. Even fans of change, like me (as you’ll already know if you read episode 3 in this #adventofchange series), want some sense that change isn’t just for change’s sake. And yes, I know there are also times where you just want sense!
Whilst there are often more useful questions to ask than Why?, it’s one we are are pretty well programmed with from our earliest days of speaking and reasoning. If you’re a client reading this, you may already have heard my story of how, one Sunday morning during a coaching course, being told there were better questions to ask than Why? questions, I was rather vociferous in my objection to such a ridiculous suggestion! Sat on the floor in the corner of the room (no, I hadn’t been naughty, I was simply sat with my group at the end of an activity we had been engaged in), I responded with how I had notoriously been a proponent of asking “but why?” since the age of 2, and couldn’t see how some 40 years later, I was expected to stop with immediate effect.
It was a lovely moment when I realised that I was making my big statement whilst rocking on the floor, in the corner of a room, like that very same two year old having a tantrum!
But I genuinely was quite attached to the Why? question. When curiosity is your super power, it feels like one of your very best BFFs!
And while I now use Why? very sparingly, it certainly has a place in leading change.
You can’t lead change well without taking people with you. And for people to follow, at the very least they need to know and understand The Why that underpins and drives the change. And to really engage with the change, your followers need to own the change themselves.
If I could adopt one philosophy for leading change… it would (and has!) been Lao Tzu’s words:
When we achieve this outcome, change and good leadership is the least we have achieved. In my experience, achieving this level of engagement is where we start to achieve the transformation described in yesterday’s post.
And that’s one of the reasons why The Why is so important. When we are leading change or transformation we need full engagement from those we need to follow us. As Simon Sinek says, in “Start with Why”, to be a great leader we need to inspire everyone to take action. He talks about the difference between leaders and ‘those who lead’…. With leaders who hold positions it’s often about power and influence. With those who lead it’s about inspiration! We follow inspirational leaders because we want to, not because we have to. We follow for ourselves, not for them. I remember reading that for the first time and deeply understanding why I had seen so many organisational leaders struggle. Power and influence are simply not enough to deliver sustainable change. It’s inspiration and vision that paints possibility, inspires trust and creates the conditions for transformation.
It’s not that How and What aren’t important in change. And we’ll definitely be returning to Who in a later blog post. But as Sinek says, we have to start with what’s at the heart of the change or transformation we want to make – The Why. People either already know or don’t particularly care about the How and What. But the people who are involved in the change we are making will (almost without exception) care about Why. Sinek gives example after example of entrepreneurial thinkers and leaders who people WANT to follow. Remember, it’s the inspirational leaders that we follow because we want to.
And we do that because we choose to buy into their Why. In fact, it’s not even just about choice. Start with Why (p55) also explains how we’re neurologically wired to buy into Why first too!
Their beliefs. Their values. Their identity. Their purpose. And yes, you’d expect me to say this….. their mission! When we are have total clarity on our Why, we make it easier for people to choose to follow us. We make it easier for them to engage with the change we want to make. We make it easier for the possibility of transformation to even emerge.
You can probably tell why Start with Why is on my recommended reading list for my clients. Whether you are leading a team, or leading change within an organisation, or leading your very own mission, you will always need to inspire others if they are to buy in to your message and your leadership.
There will also be times when you need to inspire yourself – leading change can be a lonely business, even as an experienced change leader. If I can help you, do get in touch. Coaching and mentoring those who are leading change is my specialty – here are my contact details if you would like a conversation about how I can help you.
In the meantime, what is YOUR Why? I’d love to know. Leave me a note in the comments or send me an email!