What drives you to lead the way you do? Are you energized by a worthy goal, bored by repetitiveness of tasks, or like some, are you just trying not to fail? Many leaders have begun the journey with their eyes on the horizon and soon find themselves focused on the ground at their feet. The fatigue of endless deadlines and details wears them down personally, in body, mind, and spirit. It also makes it easy to forget the why behind what they do. Our health, and the quality of our work, is tied to what we choose to do and the why that motivates us. This was made very clear to me by Emilio.
It was about 3AM when I approached Emilio on the plant floor where he filled sacks with micronutrients used in various feeds and food supplements. “What are you doing?” I asked. I must have startled him because a good deal of the measured portion intended for the bag fell to the floor. He grabbed the shovel at hand, gave me a look, and began scooping the spillage back into the bag. As he did he replied “just filling sacks, like I do every night.” Over the next weeks as I worked with the team, Emilio had an opportunity to visit a company where the sacks he filled were a key ingredient in a formula used to feed malnourished infants around the world. I have never seen the why have a greater impact. The next time I approached Emilio, his machine and the area around it were clean, the measures and the methods exacting. “What are you doing Emilio?” I asked. He just smiled and said, “Saving babies”.
The company he worked for had good leadership, clear goals, and clearer metrics, but the difference for Emilio was the why. His objectives were clear but it took a factory tour to create a customer connection and the motivation to excel. So, now I will ask you the question I asked Emilio, and the questions I ask myself regularly, what are you doing? What are the goals, and the key indicators by which you measure progress? I’m trusting that these are the right goals and you are measuring them well. So, why do you do it? When you accomplish this goal who will be impacted, and why does that matter to you?
Your job is so much more complex than Emilio’s, so I will ask you to pick just one important objective toward which you are leading your team. The objective may have been chosen to affect profitability and the security of employees, it may satisfy the board of directors, it may meet a market demand, or it may impact your community. First, determine whom the various effects of the change will impact. Think of the change as a rock thrown into a pond and mentally watch the ripples as they radiate out to touch employees, family, end users, or the town where you live. Rather than answering this question in the abstract, I am asking that you follow Emilio’s example and take your self on a tour. Go visit representative customers, share your vision and listen to their feedback. You will come away with a more motivating objective, a more sustaining view of why you do what you do.
A realistic (read that as cynical) side note is needed here. Your interview data will not all be positive, but it will be instructive. Among the many annoying, and sometimes true sayings attributed to Henry Ford is, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. Though customers often have frustrating responses this tour will afford you the opportunity to influence by sharing your vision, as well as being influenced by the feedback. You will also gain a better view of the paradigms you will need to overcome in order to accomplish your goals.
One more thing, when you list the customers do not neglect to include yourself. When you have assessed the impact of the outcome you will be better equipped to set a sustainable pace for yourself and those you lead. You will also have the why answered in a way that will help you to stay energized and focused on the horizon.
Take yourself on a tour
• What is your Goal?
• Visit those it will impact
• Share your vision
• Listen to their feedback
• Refine your vision & methods
• Stay energized by a better Why