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When the “Why” Starts to Die

Tuesday, Feb. 14th 2017

Each of us goes to work for a reason. While for some of us that reason may just be a paycheck, Simon Sinek would tell us that we are the most committed to those organizations that have a strong purpose, a powerful “why” that we believe in. We are most committed to following leaders who demonstrate and communicate the “why”, the broader purpose for our work.

But what happens when the “why” starts to die? Perhaps there is a change in the fortune of the company, or there are CEO changes, and the focus on the “why” starts to falter within our organization. Maybe the inspiring vision, once felt, lived, and observed every day, seems more and more like a tagline on a poster for a bad movie. Or maybe your boss, someone who regularly helped frame up the purpose and “why” for your team, has moved on. Maybe the job you once loved, one that you felt contributed to the broader “why”, has changed, and you feel that you are now a cog in the organizational machine.

What can you do when the “why” starts to die?

It starts with deciding if it really matters to you to have a strong “why”. Some people may be relatively content going to work, putting in their time, getting their paycheck, and going home. Their “why” may be focused on earning an income, making it to retirement, or things outside of their jobs. But if your work requires creativity, passion, and extra effort, you’ll find that without a strong “why” at work, you will become increasingly unhappy.

An approach I have found to be helpful is to develop and consult your own Leadership Compass. The idea is to write down your values and goals, your most important relationships and what matters most to those relationships, and your sources of joy. Your Leadership Compass can help you identify what really matters to you, your purpose, and your most important beliefs.

You can then use this compass to see if there is a match between what really matters to you—your “why”—and the organizations and leaders that you currently work for or are considering working for. In the course of this self-exploration, you may find that working for an organization with a very strong sense of purpose is indeed critical for you. Or maybe that is less important, but working for a leader that believes the same things you believe is more important. Perhaps instead it is the type of day to day work that you are doing directly, and how it contributes to a broader purpose, that is important to you. The key is understanding your own internal “why”, and looking for jobs, leaders, and organizations that are a match.

Now, an important point. We can make choices. We are not prisoners, shackled to our current circumstances, however much we might find comfort in believing so. We can either change our attitude about our current circumstances, and find ways to live our “why” at work, or we can change our circumstances. We can try to influence our current job, organization, or leader. Or we can look for a different job, a different organization, or a different leader that is a better fit.

It is very easy to blame other people when our “why” starts to die. We can blame the new CEO, who just doesn’t focus on the purpose and “why” of the organization beyond quarterly earnings. Or we can blame our task-master manager, who just focuses on deadlines. We can blame technology, politicians, out-sourcing, or someone in Accounting when our job changes. We can wait for someone to provide our “why” to us, and, in the meantime, be very unhappy. It’s hard to live our lives with joy and meaning when we are waiting for someone else to provide purpose for us.

The most successful people I know have their own powerful sense of internal “why”. They have an internal sense of values and purpose, and live their lives based on those things. When there is a mis-match of what is important to them and what is important to their job, their leader, or their organization, they do something about it.

Your “why” does not have to die. With courage, hard work, and a great amount of patience, it can grow and be a guiding force for the decisions you make for the rest of your life.

Todd Averett is the President of Leading People Partners, LLC, a consulting, executive coaching, and training firm that specializes in partnering with leaders and HR professionals to more effectively lead the people side of business. Check out our podcast, “Leading the People Side of Business”, on iTunes. 

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Leading People Partners

Leading People Partners, LLC
Email: todd@leadingpeoplepartners.com