How to Inspire Your Team: Communicate the ‘Why’ Behind Action

How to Inspire Team Members in Business

For almost 10 years I’ve held management roles in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. As a young manager, I thought that in order to motivate others, I first needed to show them how to achieve desired results. This was a grave mistake, as it was only part of the picture.

I rarely shared why I was motivated to stay at the office an hour after my colleagues went home. I rarely, if ever, communicated why I extended myself to give 110% effort to every project. In failing to communicate these insights to my team, I was unable to motivate them to the extent that I knew was possible.

As I will discuss in greater depth throughout this article, it’s not until you begin communicating WHY you do what you do that your followers, colleagues, or reports will actually become inspired. Stop telling people WHAT – start telling people WHY!

The “Ah-Ha!” Moment When I Began Communicating Effectively

As a New Year resolution in 2013, I decided to start a social club on Meetup. The concept was to be an ‘ordinary superhero’ who makes strangers smile and to feeds the homeless, all while donning a superhero costume. The idea was crazy enough that I had 50 members join within the first week. Now, almost 4 years later, the club has grown to over 600 members with a waitlist for every event we host.

My New Reality: Finance Manager by day, Superhero by night.

When leading the group’s volunteers, I had that breakthrough moment – I started sharing what motivated me in life and at work. These ideas generated a shared purpose among the group, one that was bought into and supported by everyone. I brought this strategy back into my Finance Manager position with similar positive results.

How Great Leaders Inspire Those Around Them

It wasn’t until I stumbled upon Simon Sinek’s TEDtalk on how great leaders inspire that I consciously understood the shift that occurred in my communication style.

Communicating Purpose to Motivate and Drive Results

In his book, Start with the Why, Simon Sinek uncovers the distinction between the successful leader and the plodder. Sinek came up with The Golden Circle illustration (right) to demonstrate how organizations understand and communicate their value. This includes:

  • WHAT: Every organization on the planet knows what they do; the products or the services they sell.
  • HOW: Some organizations know HOW they do it; what sets them apart from their competition.
  • WHY: Very few organizations know WHY they do what they do. WHY is the purpose for which the organization exists. WHY should people care?

The Golden Circle is quite simple – What, How and Why. Sinek asserts that this Golden Circle is rooted in the biology of the human brain. The WHAT and HOW are processed by the part of the brain that deals with language; the WHY is processed by the part of the brain that deals with emotions, motivation and trust.

Related Blog: Cultivate Business Success through Workplace Disciplines

How Can Companies Use this Understanding?

In branding and marketing, most companies start with the WHAT and move inwards, while very few start with the WHY and move outwards in the circle. Moving outwards from WHY does more than inspire employees, it also attracts customers that understands the value that your product or service provides to them on a personal level.

Sinek compares companies like Dell and Apple to further exemplify the difference between WHAT-centric and WHY-centric business communications:

  • Dell, a WHAT company, communicates that they are a computer company that builds computers for you. When Dell tried to expand into other product lines like MP3 players, they failed.
  • Apple, a WHY company, communicates their WHY is to fight the status quo. They set out to build a computer that would give an ordinary person the ability to do things that previously required massive amounts of capital and the support of large organizations to accomplish.

From WHY, Apple was able to communicate their HOW and ultimately sell their WHAT. They were able to develop products that fought the status quo and that’s why they have succeeded as a brand and were able to successfully expand into building and designing other products when so many other computer companies failed.

Sinek states that great leaders, like Dr. Martin Luther King, don’t tell people WHAT to do or HOW to do it. There were many civil rights movement leaders in the 60s but none that could draw a crowd like Dr. King or inspire the movement the way he did. What did he do differently? Dr. King started with the WHY and communicated what he believed in.

Related Blog: Train Your Sales Team to Understand and Communicate Value

7 Concepts to Remember When Sharing Ideas

Inspiring employees and those around you is not easy. Attracting customers to your brand and products isn’t easy either. Here are some of Sinek’s tips when it comes to sharing ideas and inspiring others:

  1. Clearly communicate your WHY.
  2. Build your HOW and WHAT based on your WHY.
  3. Focus on the WHY and the HOW and WHAT will take care of themselves.
  4. As your company grows be careful not to lose your WHY.
  5. As your company grows be very clear on communicating your WHY as the WHY often grows fuzzy.
  6. The WHY is what inspires you, day after day. The WHY is what inspires those around you to give their best day after day.
  7. Do not focus as much on the HOW and WHAT in your communications, always lead with the WHY.

Starting with the WHY helped me launch and grow my superhero club. It’s also changed in my management style at work. Each time a team member struggles with motivation, I share the WHY and the purpose of the organization. The positive difference it makes is unmatched.

To inspire those around you, you must encourage them to focus on the WHY they are there. When you do this, the HOW will reveal itself and the WHAT, your end result, will be realized.

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