Next Comes What: How Great Leaders Get Where They Want to Go

There’s been a great deal of attention surrounding the idea of understanding THE WHY. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why are you buying that? Why are you taking that job? Why are you turning down that opportunity? Why is your company doing what it’s doing or selling what it’s selling? Truly figuring out the why behind the things you do is incredibly valuable, arguably vital; but what comes next? Once you figure out your why, where do you go?

Simon Sinek has popularized this whole idea of “the why” with his massively successful TEDx talk and bestselling book, Start with Why. In the book, Sinek breaks down the details of the power of knowing the why and shows how to use it to propel an organization. He implores readers to figure out the why for their team, for the entire organization, and even for themselves. Then, once the why is known and understood, Sinek tells his readers to figure out the “how” and then, the “what.”

While Sinek has contended some great points and has offered the reader some powerful insights, when I put this whole “start with why” idea into practice, I thought to myself “what’s next.” My personal experiences have shown that while asking why is, quite obviously, important, the next step is to figure out the what.

Let me show you what I mean…

Take a minute to think through this question:

In your mind, what would a perfect day of work from your employees look like?

This is a tough question to answer, but in my experience, a critical one. There isn’t a right or wrong answer, but rather a depth to which the leader should get to in order really understand what he/she wants from his/her staff.

What a great thing to ask, right? You get an opportunity, in that moment, to decide exactly what you’d like your staff to be for your organization. And the operative word is…? It’s WHAT. What does the perfect day look like? Once the what is established, then we can go into how we’re going to do it.

The what is your North Star; it’s your reference point. The why is the reason you set out on the journey, the what is where you’re heading. Once you have the whatclearly defined in your mind, you can use it as a guidance tool, a GPS of sorts. Now when you have a new idea or read a new article on leadership, you can ask yourself, “Does this take me closer to what I want, or farther away from it?” The what keeps you on track. We’re often swayed by whatever leadership book or article we’ve just read. We think to ourselves, “That sounds nice. let’s do that!” and we change course and head off in a new direction. But over time, we start to get frustrated because we feel like we we’re not getting anywhere, and the truth is, we probably aren’t. We aren’t getting anywhere because we’re not heading anywhere. We haven’t defined what we actually want.

Now of course, this is more easily said than done. Perhaps the biggest pitfall that I’ve experienced is reverting back to the how before actually establishing the what. I ask myself questions like, “But how is that going to happen? How am I going to do that with my current team? How am I going to get that person to change?” Or even worse, I’ll edit myself and say, “That’s nice but it’s not possible in my current situation.” I go right to the how instead of to the what, totally deflating all of the wondrous possibility of my perfect situation. So now that I am aware of this pitfall, I am careful not to go straight to the how before I’ve established the what; and if I falter, I bring myself right back to asking the kinds of questions that will get me to the what again.

So go ahead. Try it. Figure out your what. What do you want? Once you start figuring it out, write it down and use it like a map. Then, when you implement an new initiative, hire a new employee, start a new process, or add new system, you can check back in and ask yourself if you are now closer or farther away from the what, from your destination. If you’re getting closer, keep going. If you see that you’re moving farther away from it, you need to stop and regroup.