Put More Weight on “Why?”

put more weight on whyOne of the biggest differentiators between managing and leading is that managers focus on the “How” while leaders focus on the “Why.” Asking “Why” gives a deeper level of understanding and when you get to the heart of the matter, you can more effectively make major leadership decisions around initiating change, driving performance and developing your people. Effectively asking “Why?” isn’t easy — it takes self-discipline and hard work to implement this practice. You have to be prepared to roll up your sleeves, proactively seek out those who have the answers, be prepared to really listen and hear hard truths at times, and remain persistent in your quest for and openness to those truths.

Challenge norms. Look around your office. Think about policies, procedures, systems, services and/or products. Consider what your organization does and why it’s doing it. Are certain systems used just because that’s “the norm” or because that’s the way it’s always been done? If yes, then that’s a red flag signaling you to ask more “why” questions around whether it’s for the best. A great example is companies in the video gaming industry. It’s a do-or-die environment in which if they don’t constantly question the status quo or their norms, they can go bust overnight. Your organization might not be in such a high-tech, cutting edge industry, but the point remains: Just because something is the norm doesn’t make it right, and the healthiest organizations are those that question what’s status quo or conventional, so they can evolve and stay ahead of the game.

Challenge people. Asking your people “Why?” is a great tool for their personal development. For example, if someone’s missing a sales goal, simply asking why will shed insight into that individual’s challenges and any opportunities for growth. When they respond, listen carefully, remaining on alert for evasive, illusive comments, as well as those that answer the “How?” versus the “Why?” aspect of an issue. You will often need to drill down deeper with several more why questions to uncover the source of the “pain.” As long as you do so in a way that’s not abrasive or accusatory in tone but more curious and objective instead, this coaching approach can be very effective for challenging people, surfacing important truths and addressing whatever needs to change.

Challenge potential. Some of the best leaders I’ve worked for in my career were highly skilled at consistently asking “Why?” of themselves, their people and their organization at large. But some of them also took this line of questioning one step farther and challenged the overall potential of their people by frequently asking, “Why not?” For instance, when something seemed impossible, unconventional, or even too risky, these fearless leaders would say, “Why not do it?” “Why not be unlike every other company?” or “Why not do what’s never been done before?” Inspired and fearless, their troops would consistently rise to meet their leader’s call, develop breakthrough solutions, typically implement those ideas with passion and pride, and deliver big wins for the entire organization. In summary, asking “Why not?” was the catalyst to building an incredibly creative, motivated and empowered culture. In your organization, frequently using these two little words can have a big impact on your potential.

Tell us your success story with asking “Why?” and challenging norms, people or your organization’s potential.

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