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Lead with Why

Your company has given you the Jean-Luc Picard directive, “Make it so.” It’s where the rubber meets the road, and plans become action. Your company has announced their mission and goals for profitability, your boss has clarified priorities, and you’ve been tasked to lead a small group in a critical task, to an important client, or project. You are on the leading edge of business execution, the MOST vital piece of making a company succeed. You’ve been given a specific task, with measurable outcomes, and a definitive timeline. The company is counting on you to be a leader and deliver top quality. This is where true leaders emerge! What are some of the traits that make a person succeed in this high-pressure environment?

Start with the WHY! Many companies and leaders at all levels focus on the “What” or the “How.” Top producing companies and leaders, at companies such as Amazon, Apple, and Lockheed start with the motivation behind decisions and priorities. They work hard to ensure employees understand WHY the company has certain priorities and how each team member contributes to that goal. Simon Senek, a leading business consultant presents this graphic:

(Simon Sinek,

Leaders who place focus on the two outer rings, the process and product, often fail to maximize potential. You must START WITH THE WHY!

As Aircraft Commander of the largest transport plane in the free world, my initial brief to my crew was always the WHY! I communicated the “Mission” first so all members of the crew understood the importance of our task. What were we transporting, who would be affected, how this affected the bigger picture, and how each crewmember contributed to the success of the mission. I made sure all involved understood how important they were to the success of the assignment, and how we could work together to make sure we delivered our “product” on-time, with care, and to be prepared for all curve balls and changes sent our way. Getting buy-in on the mission, the WHY, was the critical aspect of ensuring the crew worked together to make the mission a success.

Eight steps to ensure the success in a small group situation:

  1. Make sure both you and your team understand the metrics for success. What is important in this project, and how will success be measured? Communicate these metrics to everyone involved in the project. You must be a good communicator!

  2. Take an assessment of your team. What are the personalities? What are your team’s strengths and weaknesses? What are the personalities of the group and how will that affect quality and execution of the mission?

  3. Be a good finder! Your job is to put people in a position to succeed. Find a place for each person in your group to thrive and excel. Everyone has skills and talents that will contribute, you must be able to find where they can thrive and help the mission.

  4. Communicate! Why are we doing this? What is the expected outcome? What is my role? What are timelines, and how will we be measured? How does this fit into the company’s long-range plan, and how does this fit into MY long-term goals?

  5. Be the face of the company as you are interacting with clients – take ownership and pride in who you represent. Understand that you are the COMPANY when you talk to clients, our businesses, and external organizations, you are the face of the company, and what you communicate and how you carry yourself reflects on the opinion of your company.

  6. Set high expectations. You must be willing to hold all to a high standard – a clearly communicated set of goals and behaviors for all members of your group. Do not shy away from both PROMOTING outstanding performance, as well as stopping negative behavior with immediate feedback.

  7. Continually LISTEN, provide guidance and feedback, and support your group. In addition to being a good communicator, you must be a good listener. Don’t just listen to words, interpret actions, emotions, and interactions. As a leader you must be in tune with the sense of your team. Be on top of issues, provide resources where necessary, and talk to all members to ensure they know their concerns are heard.



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