Know your WHY! – Part 1

It is a key element in leadership effectiveness

I have split this blog in two parts.

In this first part, I will write about what I mean with the WHY and explain why I believe it is important to know about it and to talk about it. In the second part (next week), I will write how you can get clarity about your particular WHY.

So what do I mean with the WHY?

Know-whyIn the most simplistic way it is our answer to the question: why do you really get up in the morning? Or: why are you here? Because what we are here for is embedded in our soul in the fundamental parts of our being. It is our higher purpose that gives meaning to our life!

I believe we are all born with a purpose. Some of us may discover this purpose relatively early in life, some of us may need some time to find out. Many people are being hit by the question ‘why are you here?’ when they get to a certain age. And some may never find it but wonder why their lives feel empty and unfulfilling or missing something essential.

Why should we know about our WHY?

According to psychological research, the point in time when people experience a midlife crisis, around 35 to 42, it only becomes a crisis when we have not reflected on our WHY and worked on its clarification earlier in our life. However, midlife crisis or not, experts in the field can show that from that age onwards similar processes are being kicked off in our brain in every decade of our life. This alone might already be a good reason why it is valuable to know about our WHY.

I would like to give some more reasons why I believe that knowing one’s WHY and being connected with it is important in every person’s life:

Knowing our purpose and being connected to it drives passion in our life and gives us tremendous energy for what we are doing.
compass-356769_960_720Our purpose acts like a compass or trajectory in our life which can be especially useful when we are going through hard times.
Living our purpose gives us a deep sense of fulfilment and inner peace and provides a solid grounding for our journey in life.

I bet we could find more reasons why knowing our purpose in life is beneficial. Most people I have worked with in recent years recognised the value they are getting from a clear understanding of their purpose in life.

But why should a leader talk about his or her purpose in their team or their organisation?

Why should one talk about their WHY as a leader?

In one of my previous blogs I wrote about the research done by Daniel Pink on the subject of intrinsic motivation. In his work he distilled three key ingredients which drive intrinsic motivation essential in modern organisations were cognitive engagement in people’s work is necessary.

The three elements he lists are as follows:

  • autonomy: being allowed to determine a lot about our work ourselves
  • mastery: working on tasks which enable us to grow our skills and demonstrate them
  • purpose: having a clear understanding of the deeper meaning of our work

So, providing people in our teams or organisations with a deeper meaning of their work is a key ingredient to enhance their intrinsic motivation and subsequently their performance. In order to give people a deeper meaning, however, we need to understand and express our own purpose and how it features in the context of our organisation. In that way we show our teams how we are connected with our own purpose in life to the higher purpose of the organisation.

Mihail Csikszentmihalyi, one of the key researchers in positive psychology expresses this beautifully in his one sentence summary of his research around flow and purpose: “if a leader demonstrates that his purpose is noble and transcendent, that the work will enable organisational members to connect with something larger and more permanent than their material existence, people will give the best of themselves to the enterprise”.

Nothing needs to be added to this.

I hope this part one gives you a nudge to think (again) about your WHY, your purpose in life, and makes you curious for part II where I will give you some ideas how you could get clarity on your own purpose in life if you haven’t done it yet.

Stay tuned …

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