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Only the WHY Generates Passion

Only the WHY Generates Passion

A number of time I have watched and shared an interesting and inspiring TEDTalk by Simon Sinek that explained why people are willing to follow one leader and not follow another. Sinek described individuals and businesses that were unable to mobilize or energize others, and he contrasted them with people who were able to do so. The difference, he said, is that successful leaders can communicate not only what they do but more importantly, they focus on why they do it. Most people, he said, focus on the what or the how and spend too little time on the why.

Simon Sinek: How Great Leaders Inspire Action

Sinek mentioned the success of Apple and the influence of Martin Luther King, and he very convincingly explained that it was the emotions they were able to generate that allowed them to attract followers and supporters. He used research on decision-making and the brain to explain why it is important to express motivation more than simply to express a process (how) or a result (what). The “why” can capture emotions of potential followers because they can develop a sense of connection with that motivation. Followers rarely connect with a process or a product.

I fully agree with his conclusions: people follow because of emotional connections, because of how leaders make them feel, and because their beliefs coincide with the beliefs of the leader.  They are willing to spend thousands of dollars, take incredible personal or professional risks or spend countless hours on a project when their emotions are engaged. They will do little of those things when they simply work for a paycheck or react to an informative sales campaign.

After I watched the video, I began to think about my own reasons for doing what I do: writing, coaching and educating. I wanted to be sure I could clearly express the why of my actions, and I am confident that I can.  (I believe leaders want and need support in what I call Affective Leadership skills; I believe leaders thrive when the have the opportunity to learn what, where, when and how they want to learn; and, I believe asking the right questions can lead to meaningful solutions to problems and concerns.)

However, after boiling down my motivation into a few concise statements, I realized that unless I can connect with my own “why,” I cannot make the compelling argument to potential followers, and more importantly, I cannot make the compelling argument to myself. Unless I know why I spend my days as I do, the “what” and the “how” are insignificant not only because I cannot attract the passion of others but because I have not generated my own passion.

In addition to the valuable insight I gained from the video, I recognize that it is only through an understanding of why something is done can I or anyone else move forward successfully. It is only through a clear understanding of personal mission can one have the passion required to stay focused on a productive course of action. This is why a personal mission statement is so important for leaders. It allows them to filter decisions through that mission and make decisions about what they will do, and just as importantly, what they choose not to do.

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This article originally appeared April 2, 2012, but it is equally relevant today.

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