Leaders, I have just one question for you: “Why?”
- You have a mandatory ethics program for your employees. Why?
- You have a CRM tool for your entire organization. Why?
- You offer financial performance incentives to your sales people. Why?
- You have a traditional hierarchy and a vast bureaucracy to enable it. Why?
- You set budgets once annually, which drive decisions throughout the year. Why?
- You have an office with four walls and a door. Why?
- You eat lunch at your desk, and many of your people do as well. Why?
- You have an R&D department, where innovation happens. No one else is expected (allowed?) to innovate. Why?
“Why?” is my favorite question in business. It’s a question I ask, at least in my thoughts, every time I speak with a client or would-be client, every time I visit a website, every time I read an article or talk to a friend about her work. I ask “Why?” from the moment I step onto a new business’ property until days after I step back off – I don’t just do it professionally, but also as a hobby. It’s endlessly fascinating, and that’s what makes it fun.
My experience tells me that an awful lot of grownups stop asking Why at some point, and most never start back up again. Whether it’s “because that’s how it’s done around here,” or “because this is a best practice in our industry” or “because that’s how companies scale, that’s what motivates people to give their best; that’s the way the world works” – most leaders feel their role is to come up with reasons, with “Because,” rather than to keep asking the vital question of Why.
Don’t fall into that trap. Human life is ridiculously short – we barely have time to learn even a portion of what we need to; long before that time we’re tired out, or ill, or sidelined by expected retirement (expected “because that’s when people retire”). It’s kind of like we’re just here to learn, when you think about it. Please, don’t limit your own human potential, your own possible future as a truly great leader.
Never stop asking Why. Never! And ask it of your own decisions and habits more than anything else. You owe it to those you would lead. You owe it to yourself, if success and excellence is your goal.
If it isn’t? If not, then… Why are you leading in the first place?
A version of this post ran on Ted’s previous blog.