What, How & Why, and a Foundation of Trust

I’ve noticed that we spend a lot of time defining the what – what’s the goal, what’s the metric, what’s the next thing we want to accomplish.

I’ve been guilty of this on a personal and professional level. I obsess on goals and defining the right metric to track them. I also see this happen at an organizational level. One thing that always seems to be clear is the what.

The what is an important piece of the puzzle to achieve a goal. Yet, we often fail to see that it’s just a piece, instead, substituting it for the whole. 

The what, I’d argue, is the easiest part of a goal. I could spend all day writing SMART goals that paint a beautiful and vivid picture of what I want to achieve. 

Alas, the what is useless on its own. 

The best leaders provide the what, but recognize that in order to really challenge people to grow and move towards a goal, they need to paint a vibrant picture of the how and why. 

And once the picture is painted, they are relentless in reinforcing it. 

The how tends to be a bit more malleable. There are many ways to get from point A to point B and the route will most likely shift based on changing conditions or ideas from the team on how to do it better (leaders must always be open to feedback from the folks who do the work).

The why, however, must connect to a larger purpose. For the more challenging goals, people must be bought into the why, especially, if it will require sacrifice (of time, energy, or emotional investment). The why must be clear so people understand what their work is contributing to. 

I’ve stated before that people want to be part of a journey. 

The best journeys are aligned deeply with our values. Great leaders see the what as a point on the horizon to reach for but spend more time amplifying the why in order to get people committed to the journey. Once people are enrolled in the journey, it’s easy to engage them in helping to define the how. 

If we spend enough time getting people to buy into the why and ask their help in shaping the how, the what will take care of itself. 

Most importantly, for any of this to work, there must be a foundation of trust in your team. Otherwise it’s easy to hide behind the what and convince yourself it’s all that’s required from you as a leader.

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