Start with Why to Engage Your Team

If you’re a leader you must start with why to engage your team.  And I mean a leader of anyone.  Employee team, volunteer group, family, sports team, small department in your company.  It’s all the same.

Smart leaders learn to start with their why not the how or the what. Otherwise, it’s difficult to engage your team.

Let’s say you’re a parent.  When our kids were little and it was time for discipline, we sent them to their room to think over their crimes in silence.  After a few minutes on death row, we walked into the room and said something like this:

Me:        Honey, I hate to discipline you today (mostly but not always true) but there’s an important reason that forces me to do it.  You see, if I don’t discipline you today, what will happen when you go out into the world and you’re in school?  Who will discipline you then?

Kid:        My teacher?

Me:        Yes, your teacher will have to discipline you.  And what about when that doesn’t work?  Who disciplines you then?

Kid:        The… principal? (The extreme gravity of the situation is now sinking in)

Me:        Yes, but what if that doesn’t work, then who does it?

Kid:        Ummm…

Me:        The police.  And the police put you in jail if you’re very bad.  And the last thing I want for you is to go to jail.  You have to learn how to be a good person right here, right now at home.  So, I have to discipline you because I love you, not because I’m mad at you (also mostly but not always strictly the truth).

Start with why with your children.

Explaining the why to kids helps.

Here’s another example, this time at work:  You lead a veterinary team, and you need to drive sales up.

Your first instinct is to address the problem head-on.  Your meeting starts something like this:

“Team, sales are down for the year, and they’re low compared to last year at this time too.  We have to get sales up.  Who has an idea to fix this?”

And you wonder why you get crickets, or forced answers, or at least a lack of enthusiastic engagement.

What if you start with why instead?

“Team, last week Mrs. X came in with her bulldog.  She was so distraught and the dog was in real pain.  And we were able to calm her fears and treat the bulldog and send them both home feeling so much better.  And Mrs. X thanked us profusely.  Remember how good it felt to know we made a difference in that family? It reminded me why I got into this profession in the first place; to help animals and help their owners.  Let’s not forget why we’re all here.  Now, let’s review our sales numbers for the month…”

This works in any organization.  Everyone, and every organization has a why.  If you’re not sure what yours is, simply ask:

  • Whose stress do we take away?
  • Who is helped as a result of our business?
  • What would be missing in the world if we were gone?
  • What is our greater purpose in the world?

Use that why because it’s the most motivating reason anyone comes into work.  It helps engage your team and most leaders never mention it.

The best way to communicate your why is through a story.

So here’s how to start with why in order to engage your team:

  • If you want to inspire anyone, communicate the why first off
  • Tell stories in your meetings about the why. Every meeting before you begin or at the end
  • Make company decisions based on your why

When you do that, you’ll attract employees who also care about your why.  You’ll also attract customers who value you and what you do based on your why.  They’ll be prepared to pay a little more to deal with you because they believe you and resonate with your message.

They won’t shop you as quickly, because they believe in you.  Your employees won’t leave as quickly for the same reason.

“There are only 2 ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it”

Simon Sinek

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