Could Why be Wrong?
By now I'm sure many of you have heard of Simon Sinek and have heard of his famous TEDx Talk "Start with Why" . This talk has almost 50 Million views. In the talk Simon discusses that good leaders need to start with WHY? First explain why it is, as an organization, you are doing what you are doing before you move into the How and the What. This sets a better foundation when sharing your ideals, purpose, and goals with followers.
It is touted as a business need-to-know. When looking at any company leadership seminar or summit, it becomes apparent that Sinek's ideas have swept people in. And I, too, admit that Sinek's attitude of why's and open information seems awesome! It fits exactly to my communication style as a person, as I tend to over-explain more often than leave people wondering.
But his style is not without dissent. Some business consultants and authors (such as Shawn McBride) rightfully criticize Sinek's approach to sales. McBride points out that often time buyers are not interested in your long back-story as much as they are interested in how your product meets their need. And I am leaning to agree with him. I suppose it is fair to say that Sinek's approach is centered toward internal business leadership and explaining company values to employees and team members, not necessarily customers, but it is likely the case that some have taken Sinek's advice and applied it to realms outside of their intention.
I, personally as an instructor, have experienced moments in which I try to start with why. I explain to my students (both academic and motorcycle safety) the reasons as to why we ask you to perform such and such action before explaining the action; and sometimes I am met with critical push-back. This is not because they disagree with my argument, but it is because the way in which I state it can be almost... condescending.
Consider this example. A coworker, or subordinate, emails you to explain that they are not able to get a document in on time. You have set clear guidelines and expectations that this document NEEDED to be in. You also set clear consequences if errors were to happen. (this is not about the consequences or errors or whatever, it's about the interaction so don't read too deep here). When responding back to your peer, or subordinate, you start with Why.
"Hey "person" I understand your plight [whatever it may be for the sake of this example], I expected this document at this time because we all had a discussion and we all agreed [starting with why]. We may be able to push the meeting or final grading back [How]. In order to give you more time to work [What]."
Starting with Why, in this case, comes off almost as if you are adding insult to injury. This worker knew they were late, they maybe even knew the consequences, and knew that this would end poorly for them. Reminding them of the "Why" just seemed to be more of a kick in the face.
I know that this isn't exactly how conversations like this take place. But I just wanted to explore the ideas of "Starting with Why" to see how this idea isn't the catch-all-be-all for workplace and leadership communication.
I like Simon. I like his ideas. I like his leadership approach, for the most part, but I am also aware that, like many other approaches and answer to life, it is NOT without limitations.
I ask that any business leaders reading this remember this idea going forward.
It's great to know why until I'm telling you why.