Communicating the Why
Oftentimes we, as leaders, merely give people the need-to-know information when it comes to a decision, process or policy change, new project, etc., because we find ourselves too busy and too focused on results. In today’s world, we send short-hand text messages and communicate through hashtags and tweets so that information is distributed quickly. This rapid- fire, top-down, command-and-control style of leadership can be an easier and more natural approach, but it doesn’t inspire or encourage people. We ask someone to do something (the what) and then suggest how they should do it (the how), but the why gets pushed aside or lost in the whirlwind. But communicating the why – the heart behind something – is one of the most powerful communication tools available to a leader, so it’s critical we not rush past it.
Clearly explaining why is oftentimes much harder than what or how. Telling someone what to do and how to do it is simply giving orders. It’s like when your parents responded to you with “Because I said so.” We should avoid this approach at all costs. It removes critical thinking and creativity, and in the long run peoples’ growth personally, professionally and spiritually are stunted and the organization suffers. However, explaining why it should be done moves you into the role of teacher instead of authoritarian. It allows team members to understand the heart behind the decision with the intention of moving them from receiver of the information to believer of the information.
And, the why usually transcends time, while what and how can be fleeting. As we make changes, we have an opportunity to build trust in our teams progressively as we help them understand the why or the heart behind the changes. Over time, team members can see the consistency in values and decision making, even in the midst of change, increasingly developing their critical thinking skills in those areas.
If people don’t understand the why, they’ll eventually rebel against the system. Once employees understand and believe the why they become more engaged and confident in their work, embracing the freedom to be creative and innovative. They’ll bring ideas to the table that we never considered, improving the business in ways that we can’t anticipate. Team members that understand the why become inspired, accountable, productive and engaged. And, that’s our hope.
Questions to consider:
1) Can you recall a leader sharing why beyond what to do and how that impacted you?
2) When was the last time you clearly communicated the why behind the what for the work your team is doing?
3) Which team members could benefit the most from you making time to clearly explain the why – the heart behind their work?