Recently I’ve been making my way through a book called “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek who believes absolutely in the motivating power of the people you lead knowing the why of what they’re asked to do.
Although this book and the majority of the analogies within are business centric, the message they convey can be easily applied to our lives and work in the service.
One of the key concepts in this book is the Golden Circle, which may be imagined as three concentric circles; the centermost circle contains the Why, the next ring out contains the How, and the furthest out contains the What. Every company in the world knows what it does. This may be something akin to our mission statement. We train the world’s greatest fighter pilots.
Fewer companies have a real understanding of their How. This would entail a differentiating value proposition or a unique resource chain; the How is a working understanding of the unique processes that makes your company tick.
One step deeper is the Why. Very few companies can clearly communicate why they do what they do. The Why is key. The Why is intensely personal. The Why captures your purpose, cause or belief. Why does your company exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning, and why should anyone care?
Another key concept is leadership clarity, discipline and consistency. Understanding how you do things and, more importantly, having the discipline to hold your team accountable to those guiding principles enhances your unit’s ability to harness its inherent strengths. Everything we do or say as leaders must prove what we believe and be consistent with our values. Failure to do so would project an incongruence that our teams would pick up on instantly, much to the detriment of our organizations. The Why must be clearly articulated and understood by all; after clearly communicating the Why, we must be disciplined enough to hold ourselves and our teams accountable for our actions and be consistent in all we say and do. But the above must be accomplished in the right order. You must start with why.
You may have heard the phrase “we lead with trust, we manage with data.” Trust is not something that we give away. Trust is earned. We earn trust by demonstrating that we share the same values and beliefs. We communicate the Why and exemplify it through what we do. Those who lead are able to do so because those who follow trust that the decisions being made are with the best interest at heart of the group and mission. Likewise, those who trust and follow do so because they know they are working for a greater good, some goal bigger than themselves. People seek out and thrive in places where their values and beliefs align with those of the prevailing culture. John Maxwell is often quoted as saying “before people care what you know, they must know that you care.” Establishing trust is a prerequisite for effective leadership.
Hopefully by now, you’ve arrived at the question, “What is your own, personal Why?” What keeps you going? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? Why have you chosen to serve?
In Gen. S.L.A. Marshall’s classic work, “Men Against Fire,” he asserts that when it comes down to it, people fight for the man (or woman) next to them. Do you serve for your team mates? Do you serve for a country whose ideals and constitution align with your personal views of government and the rights of man?
Perhaps your Why is closer to home. Do you serve for your family, to protect and provide for them? Do you serve to carry on a proud heritage? Do you serve for your home town or friends? What drives you on in life and service is a critical component of who you are; not just as a person but as an Airman and as a leader. If you haven’t taken time recently to reflect upon why you do what you do, it may be worth your while to do so. Having a strong, clear Why enables you to lead with a clarity, focus and purpose that cannot be matched without it. Leaders at all levels can benefit from starting with WHY. Only when a team is centered on its guiding beliefs and values, disciplined enough to act on them and driven by a commitment to them, can the toughest challenges be met.