While there are many traits shared by successful business leaders, having a clearly defined “why” might be the most important. A strong “why” gives leaders a defined direction for where they want to take their company. It provides a reason for the things they do — and how they do them.
As Simon Sinek, who originated the Find Your Why concept, explains, as important as this process is, it’s often surprisingly challenging. “The part of the brain that controls feelings and behavior doesn’t control language,” Sinek says in a recent video clip. “In other words, it’s hard to put into words. Ironically, you stop asking the question ‘Why?’ because the question ‘Why’ is an emotional question.”
But the struggle is worthwhile. A clear “why” will influence everything from the customers a business serves to tactics leaders use to motivate employees. Most importantly, your “why” provides overarching motivation that goes well beyond the mere desire to make money.
Financial success ultimately follows — but only when the right “why” has been established first.
How Leaders Find Their ‘Why’
Here are three strategies that savvy leaders use to find a meaningful why that drives their business operations and provides powerful motivation.
1. They Focus on Their Passions
Most successful businesses come into existence because their founders have a genuine passion for what they do. They don’t just love the ups and downs of the business world — they are deeply invested in their industry as a whole.
“When I ran my family’s retail store, I started to study the products we were selling. This led me to wonder if I could develop products at a higher standard that met different health needs,” recalls Alexy Goldstein, founder and CEO of New U Life, in an interview on Influencive. “It led me to study to become a homeopathic doctor. That initial kernel of interest ultimately directed everything I did. My company is a direct outcome from that.”
As Goldstein’s example reveals, many successful businesses stem directly from an early interest in an industry or idea. For many entrepreneurs, the “why” is a result of their growing passion for an industry. They want to keep learning about their niche, and this leads them to innovate and improve in exciting ways.
Perhaps most importantly of all, focusing on one’s genuine passions ensures that leaders will maintain enthusiasm for their work. They will enjoy what they do and be willing to push through challenges. This makes it easier to avoid burnout, which can otherwise halt their company’s growth in its tracks.
2. They Find Ways to Do Good
Today’s leaders are increasingly looking for ways to make an impact beyond their company, and for good reason. Today’s customers are extremely focused on what they perceive as a business’s impact on its community, and the world as a whole.
A full 70 percent of customers “want to know what the brands they support are doing to address social and environmental issues,” with 46 percent looking into the brand’s social impact before buying a product. In a politically charged environment, many people will even boycott brands that don’t support their preferred ideals.
Interestingly, surveys have found that 88 percent of customers want the brands they do business with to help them make a positive impact on the world — even if it is something simple, like donating a portion of profits to charity. Opting for a cause that is not politically charged can ensure they don’t alienate a portion of their target audience.
Consumers want to buy from brands that align with their values, and savvy leaders will look to their own social or environmental priorities to find causes they can align their brand with. Supporting a cause — and then communicating it — helps leaders compound their potential impact for good. A company that is viewed as socially responsible will gain a loyal following of like-minded consumers.
3. They Look to Other Stakeholders for Inspiration
Business leaders aren’t on their own in generating a powerful “why” for their brand. Quite often, a company’s “why” will have even greater impact when a variety of those closely involved in the business have some amount of say in shaping it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put this into even greater focus than before. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Margaret Heffernan explains how an intellectual-property agency CEO felt that she needed to transform her company into a “source of realistic hope” as those her company served suffered as a result of the pandemic.
“That was her instinct, but she didn’t trust it blindly. Instead, she convened groups of stakeholders — suppliers, employees, customers, partners — and asked them what they needed and expected of the firm now,” Heffernan writes. “A legitimacy of purpose developed, because everyone contributed to it. Instead of clinging to an old plan, customers and employees alike are galvanized now by the opportunity to grow in size and scope and influence.”
When leaders seek insights from employees, customers, and others in their industry, it becomes much easier to achieve buy-in from all involved parties. This ensures that a company’s “why” becomes more than just a meaningless statement that is posted to the website. It becomes fully engrained in the company’s culture, providing motivation that drives performance.
Find Your ‘Why’
With the right “why,” you won’t just improve your own motivation. You’ll be able to create a strong work culture that attracts like-minded employees to your business.
The right “why” will ultimately lift everyone’s performance, allowing you to deliver better results to your customers than ever. When you think bigger than yourself, the financial goals you have for your business will follow.