Why I lead how I lead

Why “why” is important

I believe that people understanding the reasons and motivation behind actions is vital. This focus on the “why” is the key to building engagement, motivation and accountability in my role and with those I work with. In my experience, a leader taking the time to clearly explain their reasoning behind a decision or course of action can be the difference between a task being well-received and motivational for their team or being misunderstood and disempowering.

For example, let’s say that during a catch-up with one of my team, they share the details of a problem they are struggling with and my response is “What do you think you should do?”. Without understanding the motivation behind this question, my team member may think “Arrgghh, he thinks I should know what to do and I don’t! I’m in trouble”. Or “Oh great, he has no idea either!?! What a waste of time!”.

In fact, my aim was actually to build my direct reports’ confidence and capabilities instead of just solving the problem as quickly as possible. I believe they, in most cases, have the experience and skills to solve their problems on their own. I sometimes just need to draw their ideas out and encourage them to look at things from another perspective, hence the question. But, if I don’t explain the motivation behind my approach, I leave the interpretation of my actions to chance.

A leader’s bigger Whys

While understanding the Why behind a task or action is important, understanding the Why behind someone’s approach to their job can be transformative. A leader explaining the Why behind how they act in a general sense, may well uncover their philosophy and higher purpose for others to see. In fact, articulating these underlying principles can help the leader decide how they should handle a new, difficult situation – because they have already codified how they want to act.

Furthermore, when a group of people have shared Whys or principles, they’ll find it more natural and fulfilling to work together. They will be able to be more deliberate when selecting how to act and what to do, reflecting the common values they hold dear. They’ll have a freedom to act independently, safe in the knowledge they are being true to the principles of the group. They may also be able to rally others of a similar mind to their cause and grow new leaders.

Rather than just theorizing that this is a good thing to do, I’m going to share my Whys behind leadership in this post to see if they offer some inspiration for the reader to articulate why they do what they do.

Being more transparent about why I lead how I lead

Explaining why I lead how I lead is an opportunity to highlight my values to those around me, I am setting out to be clearer with my colleagues about what I believe about leadership and the world of work. Hopefully those beliefs and values will resonate with the people I work with. Even if that is not the case, people working with me will better understand my actions, should be able to hold me accountable to my values and help me improve.

It’s worth noting that it took me a long while to work out what my Whys, my underlying drivers, actually are. And I’m still not sure I am done, although they feel right. But if I am close, it turns out they are not rocket science.

Somewhat nervously then, as what follows is a little more personal than what I tend to blog about, here are my Whys and the related Hows (how I intend to deliver against my Whys) and Whats (what I will actually do to enact those Hows).

why how what 4

The following sections are framed to be read by a member of my team.

My Whys

  1. I believe work should be motivating, fulfilling and enjoyable. I aim to create an environment where this is the case for everyone. I believe the best way to do this is by engaging people empowered with clear purpose, the freedom to act and a drive to improve.
  2. I succeed through the work of my team. I believe that, if I create the right team environment, as a group we will make better decisions, do better work and achieve much more than any of us can on our own.
  3. I believe I should focus on people, being attentive to people’s needs and helping them grow so they feel understood, supported and are learning. I believe this builds trust, safety and increased capabilities.

In short, I believe:

  • People should have a clear purpose, the freedom to act and a drive to improve.
  • The team will do better than the individual.
  • People should be understood, supported and learning.

The Hows and the Whats

1. People should have a clear purpose, the freedom to act and a drive to improve.

How I reflect that belief

  • I aim to be ridiculously clear about goals, expectations and decisions. I want you to tell me when things are not clear.
  • I aim to nurture decision-making in people closest to the information. I will give my views to provide perspective and introduce new information, but I want to encourage people to build confidence in their own decision-making.
  • I will aim to build an open, safe, collaborative and accountable team environment.

Examples of What that might look like:

  • I’ll focus on outcome-focused goals for my team.
  • I’ll call out the goal of a meeting I am running at the start.
  • I’ll ask questions before giving advice or answers.
  • I’ll share information from across the company and division to provide more context for you to make decisions.

2. The team will do better than the individual.

How I reflect that belief

  • I will favour facilitating and coaching the group to collaborate, challenge and reach good decisions.
  • I will aim to introduce challenges to the group without a pre-decided solution.
  • I will be curious and ask questions, not to criticise or correct, but to discover and encourage new perspectives to improve our understanding.
  • I will always explain why I am doing what I am doing or why I have taken a decision I have taken. If I don’t, it is entirely reasonable for you to ask “why?”.
  • I will encourage the group to criticise and challenge my ideas, so that we can improve the approach or find a better idea.

Examples of What that might look like:

  • I will take on the role of facilitator in team meetings.
  • I’ll run workshops in favour of giving presentations.
  • We’ll review each others plans, issues and risks together.
  • I’ll ask dumb questions in meetings – like, “why are we doing this, again?” – to get important information out into the forefront of people’s minds and encourage us to take a step back to look from a wider perspective.
  • I’ll share the reasons decisions that have been taken by company leadership – even if I don’t personally agree. I will be clear when those decisions are up for debate, or if we need to disagree and commit.

3. People should be understood, supported and learning.

How I reflect that belief:

  • I will be open, honest and vulnerable to encourage others do the same. I will tell you the truth, openly sharing information while respecting confidentiality. I will admit my mistakes and weaknesses.
  • I will really try to listen and understand your perspective. If you don’t think I have, I will always appreciate you letting me know.
  • I will encourage you to take decisions and support you in solving your problems. I will not step-in to take decisions for you or solve your problems for you. I will provide coaching and mentoring to help you understand the situation you find yourself in and offer advice where I can.
  • I will be directive if I think the risk of you continuing with your current course of action is too high for you, the people involved or the wider company. I will be clear when I am being directive and why.
  • I will always give constructive feedback; both positive and challenging. I do this to help people learn and improve. I will do this honestly and respectfully, so people understand the impact of their actions without feeling attacked. I will always let you have your say regarding any feedback I give.

Examples of What that might look like:

  • I’ll run great 1-2-1s regularly that focus on you and not the status of your teams, projects and people.
  • I’ll go out of my way to give you concrete feedback aimed at improvements. I’ll gather this feedback from your peers and teams too.
  • I’ll ask questions aimed at finding out how you are and what is going on with you. If that feels too intrusive – tell me and I’ll stop.
  • We’ll agree outcomes for you to aim for, ask you to decide how you will achieve those and ask for an ‘intent-check’ if I want you to share you plans before moving ahead. This is so I have an opportunity to share my perspective/concerns and give you improvement feedback to build your capabilities.
  • I’ll call out my mistakes and encourage you to let me know about them too.

I will make mistakes

I won’t always get my approach right. I’ll need your help to highlight when I could have reflected my own principles more clearly! If I do fail, I will aim to treat that as an opportunity to improve and will not be defensive (I’ll really try, but I might fail at that too occasionally).

If some of my actions or my approach is not working for you for a given situation, for instance you want me to tell you what to do directly or give you advice when I seem to be avoiding doing that, then please tell me.

References

Over the last year, I’ve taken a lot from Simon Sinek’s views on leadership in his books Start With Why and The Leader Eats Last. What he describes as “The Golden Circle” has helped me articulate the beliefs behind how I work and what I do.

My actual Whys, Hows and Whats have been shaped most recently by L. David Marquet’s brilliant Turn the Ship Around with his description of Intent-Based Leadership and the Leader-Leader model.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s