The One Word That Can Make You a Motivational Leader

"Why"-centered leadership can help motivate your teams from within and create better business results

When you want to get someone to do something, how do you do it? It really comes down to an either-or choice: you either force them to do it by coercion, or you help them understand why they should want to do it on their own volition.

Which type of leader are you?

Many successful leaders take the former command-and-control approach, leading by fear. Yet while pushing people into doing things may generate results (at least in the short-term), coercive fear-based cultures can also backfire, leading to low morale, disengagement, and diminished productivity over time.

At Pluralsight, we're convinced that the latter leadership style--which involves pulling people toward goals rather than pushing them--is the way to go. To do this effectively, leaders must be able to articulate the company's vision and values in such a way that others can then embrace the desired goals freely through intrinsic motivation. It's all about education in the end--when people deeply understand the why, they are naturally motivated to do it.

Here are some thoughts on why the "why" is so important from a leadership perspective:

"Why" gets you closer to the bull's eye--and to better business results. The expert on this topic is Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why--a book I believe is among the top 5 in importance to help leaders prepare for 2020. Sinek's premise can be conceptualized by envisioning what he has termed the "Golden Circle." To understand the concept, picture a circle with three layers that expand outward, like a target. The innermost circle (the bull's eye) represents the "why"--your company's core belief or purpose for existing. The center rung represents the "how"--how your company fulfills that core belief. Finally, the outermost circle (furthest from the bull's eye) represents the "what"--what your company does to fulfill that core belief.

Sinek's research found that disturbingly, when it comes to marketing, most companies start as far away from the bull's eye as possible by first considering their "what," and then moving to "how." Many neither mention their "why" nor understand it well enough to articulate why they do the things they do in the other two layers. Sinek found that companies like Apple that start with the "why" achieve extraordinary results, while those that don't...well, they don't.

"Why" creates better leaders. These concepts can apply to leadership as well as to marketing. Leading with the "why" requires becoming an inspirational, values-based teacher. Sinek understands that great leadership is less about linking the company's direction to specific accomplishments, and more about voicing convincingly and authentically what the company's core belief is all about.

Leaders who are able to persuasively articulate their vision to everyone in the company by starting with the "why" are in a position to inspire people, helping them better understand the aim of their actions. As individuals gain that understanding, leaders can empower them with more autonomy to figure out the "how" and the "what," which ultimately breeds more intrinsic motivation. This is much more powerful than crude command-and-control leadership tactics.

"Why" motivates from within--for a cause. Taking the teaching principle a step further, "why" leaders empower and educate people to do the right thing for the right reasons--because they genuinely believe in the importance of doing so. Such leaders are able to effectively share and transfer their passion for their company's core belief, thereby creating more believers through shared understanding. The amazing thing about a "why"-based approach to leadership is that teaching people about the company's core belief inspires not just your employees, but also your customers. As Sinek says, people "don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."

We've found at Pluralsight that another one of Sinek's principles is true as well: that when you hire people who believe in your organization's core belief, they'll be more likely to make significant contributions. If you believe that your organization has the potential to change the world--whether by developing lifesaving medicines, providing products that make people's lives easier, or in the case of our company, democratizing professional learning--then with effective "why"-centered leadership, anyone who joins you will be working toward that end.
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