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Know Your Why and Lead with That!

For 30 years I worked in jobs that required me to step up, step out and lead from various levels

of the organization. I have had wonderful managers who were great leaders and I have had not-so-wonderful managers. Not-so-wonderful managers are the ones who were on auto-pilot. It is too common that employees around these not-so-wonderful managers suffer when these managers are not capable of understating their own responses to organizational change. After a couple of failed attempts to work with bad managers, I was inspired to go deep. I took the time to write down what I liked about each manager I worked with, and then listed why I left each. It taught me a valuable lesson: Looking back into our own experiences, we can remember times which brought us to the feeling of fear, awe or humility. This type of deep reflection is one of the keys to self-awareness – examining your beliefs and assumptions. In order for us to get through this fear, we must first allow ourselves to replace fear with courage. Only then can we move forward to pursue our own ‘why’. I am blessed to know so many people who truly understand their ‘why’. When I listen to them, no matter what we are talking about, I can hear the link between courage and the degree of meaning they have in their life; the sense, at a very deep level, they know why they are doing the things they do. These are the people I began to surround myself with and learn from. They are courageous because they are letting their life speak. Here are three action steps I learned from others:

  1. Quietly look around for what you are interested in. You can do this by looking around your home, your office, and your informal spaces. What themes do you see? Now sit quietly and think about this. This is what energizes you!

  2. Engage in ‘free-writing’. When I was in college, I had a professor who introduced me to ‘free-writing’. This is when you simply set a timer for 20 minutes and write whatever is on your mind. No need to edit, think, or write with a purpose. Just write what is on your mind, as random as it will be, write it all down. I did this every day for a month and became better and better at it. Eventually you can return to your writing and look for themes. This is going to be very enlightening for you. Your innate strengths will shine through your writing!

  3. Ask other people what they think. Ask your friends and your family where they think you add the greatest value. To make it fun, you can even create a survey so they can respond anonymously.

As Simon Sinek explains in his very wise TedTalk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, “

“We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. And it’s those who start with why that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others who inspire them.”

If a leader understands their ‘why’ and they have found meaning in why they are doing what they do, they will be able to manage their own responses to the organizational changes and their teams will be better off for it! So, while the action steps may seem a bit quirky, try it!

By: Michelle Cole, MA and Lisa Lopez, MPA

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