How to inspire others? Start with the Why

Simon Sinek started a movement to help leaders inspire others. By starting with the ‘Why’ instead of ‘What’ or ‘How’ leaders can inspire stronger followership. By ‘Why’ Sinek means starting with the underlying purpose of your actions. Why do you do what you do? Why do you get out of bed every morning? For example, to make things better, to create teams that excel or to be the behind-the-scenes reason for my family’s success. From an organization lens:

  • Why — This is the core belief of the business. It’s why the business exists.
  • How — This is how the business fulfills that core belief.
  • What — This is what the company does to fulfill that core belief.

As Sinek famously said, “people don’t buy what you do; but why you do it”. Because our preference is to follow leaders and join organisations that are driven by a larger cause and purpose, rather than only to make more money or to increase shareholder wealth, leaders are now under pressure to lead with greater purpose. The reality however is that most leaders don’t have a strong sense of the organization’s purpose let alone their individual purpose.

I’m lucky to have both. Working for an organization which gives around 40 cents of every dollar of its profit to philanthropy initiatives that are focused on important social causes, like improving education and teacher capability in rural areas in India, has created a powerful pull mechanism to attract new talent and increasingly new customers too.

This week as part of the global leadership program that I run, I was lucky to spend some time at the Azim Premji Foundation with the new cohort. The visit left me and the group of new employees feeling energized and a deeper connection to the larger organization purpose. While Wipro and other companies like Microsoft are rare today, which have their majority shareholders focus on philanthropic activities, every leader and organization can increase their employee engagement by focusing on their individual purpose first. As Sinek says, it’s not what you or how you do it, but why you do your job that inspires others to act and buy your products and services.

Finding your individual purpose and living it every day isn’t easy, given the social pressures and dominant norms of what success means (having money, status, power, etc.) but it is possible by:

  1. Mining your life story for common threads and major themes to identify your core, lifelong strengths, values, and passions that bring you joy
  2. Using these insights, try and craft a clear statement of purpose in your own words: “My leadership purpose is _______.” The words must capture your essence and call you to action.
  3. Review and further refine your statement to make sure it captures your core purpose. For example, to ‘continually develop myself and others to deliver exceptional performance’ to ‘with grit, create brilliance’
  4. Lastly, put your purpose to action. Remember: actions count, not words!