Do you know why you do what you do? What impact do you want to have, and why is it important to you?
If you’re not familiar with the “why” question, it was introduced by Simon Sinek in his famous TED Talk based on his book Start With Why. He explains that all companies know what they do, and most know how they do it, but very few know why they do it.
I believe that the same goes for individuals, including most leaders.
Many have asked me, "Why am I so passionate about helping others succeed?"
The answer to such a question really requires you to think very carefully about what drives you and what impact you want to have. I believe effective leadership requires you to be able to answer this kind of question.
In 2015, when I was recruited to serve as a Vistage Chair, one of the exercises they asked me to complete was writing a statement that answered the question "Why is it important for me to do what I do?"
I sat down and drafted my "why" statement and rewrote it until I felt clarity. My "why" comes from my late father's resilience as a Holocaust survivor who built our successful family business from scratch. His ability to never lose sight of what was important to him — his authenticity, his integrity and his principles — always inspired me. His early passing at age 65 left a huge hole in my life, but I'm determined to share his wisdom — which has helped me so much — with others.
One of the greatest lessons I learned from my father is "Know what you stand for and what you won't stand for." To do good, you have to be good. You can’t fake it (till you make it). People will know whether you’re authentic or just bluffing.
I know there are many theories about how you should appear confident, caring and compassionate on the outside, as this can make you an endearing leader, manager, boss, parent or teacher. But I believe it doesn’t work — at least not in the long term. If what you’re trying to do is get into the habit of really caring, then it can work, but if you’re trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes, it will likely backfire.
Some leaders I coach try very hard to appear successful on the outside, but inside, they are a total mess, and it catches up with them. Many blame and point fingers at everyone but themselves.
Remember: If you point a finger at someone, you’ll have three fingers pointing back at you.
Being authentic means not trying to cover up or appear to be something that you're not. Many leaders are afraid to be vulnerable, as they're afraid it might diminish their standing with their colleagues or employees. However, the opposite is usually true. Being open and honest can make you a much more effective leader. (Just listen to Brené Brown's TED Talk on the power of vulnerability.) Sharing your life mission can make you seem more authentic.
Here's a great example of how I helped an effective leader write her own "why" statement, and you can follow the same process to write yours:
Susan was running a very successful home-based business but felt unaccomplished. She felt she could do so much more and have a more meaningful impact on people. In my advanced leadership class, she started to look at having an impact on young adults as a career counselor as something that she really would like to do. When I asked her why this was so important to her, she started thinking very seriously about what was driving her to have an impact on young people.
Then, she blurted out her life story:
When she was a teenager, her father went out to do some grocery shopping and was hit by a drunk driver. He was killed instantly. What she realized was that not only did she feel his loss, but also, more importantly, she missed his guidance and him being there for her when she had to make a decision. That prompted her to want to be there for those who either didn't have parents to guide them or just needed a listening ear.
So ask yourself: "What impact do I want to have, and why is it important to me?" When you ask yourself these questions, you'll likely find the answers deep inside of you. It worked for me and Susan, and I hope it works for you.