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Know Your Why

No one can want something for you more than you want it for yourself.  As the saying goes; you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. The horse has to be thirsty. That’s why putting opportunities in front of someone who lacks purpose or an internal motivating force seldom succeeds.  It’s also why so many leaders miss the mark or lose their way.

True North, Wikimedia Commons

Whatever the undertaking, enterprise or project you’re launching, you need to start with the why. Before defining your strategy, before crafting your implementation plan and defining your metrics, before selecting your team—first you need to know what will get you and your team out of bed in the morning and what will keep you all on track, no matter what obstacles you encounter.

Right after thanksgiving weekend last year, Christopher Hadfield tweeted this comment and image:

“Perspective: first you have to get above the air – then your ship can go fast enough to stay in orbit.”

Both the picture and the sentiment help us understand what motivated him to do whatever it took to become an astronaut and “get above the air.”  Chris Hadfield’s sense of awe and gratitude at being able to spend his life reaching for his vision is infectious: so much so that 1.44 million people follow him on Twitter just to get a glimpse of what he sees.

According to Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, “Inspired leaders think, act and communicate from the inside out…they start with why…because people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Dewitt Jones, celebrated photographer and speaker, shares his insights about creating “Extraordinary Visions” through the marriage of words and his breathtaking photographs. He consistently views the ordinary through different lenses and reveals astonishing beauty. As Jones demonstrates, when you know what matters to you, what you want to accomplish and what you’re looking for, you can “put yourself in the place of most potential” and find the “next right answer.” Like Christopher Hatfield, Jones also talks about changing perspective to achieve clarity, as well as reframing problems into opportunities to discover new avenues to achieve the vision.

In an article in Entrepreneur Magazine, business owner Katherine Kelly shared her struggles with motivation, concluding :

“If you are not feeling motivated, if your business is not moving forward, or if you find yourself feeling ‘stuck,’ it is most likely because your ‘why’ is not strong enough to pull you through the rough spots and make you push yourself to do things when you don’t want to do them.”[1]

Bill George, Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School adds another dimension to knowing your why. He calls it finding your True North and describes it as follows:

“True North is your orienting point that helps you stay on track as a leader. It is derived from your most deeply held beliefs, your values, and the principles you lead by.”[2]

Knowing your why and finding your True North means:

  • defining your values and committing to them before they’re tested;
  • knowing who and what matters to you; and
  • infusing your vision with purpose and meaning so it draws you forward like a magnet and energizes you every day.

Before you start fleshing out the details of your vision and planning how you and your team will achieve it, ask yourself:

Is my why strong enough to start me up, strong enough to keep me going, strong enough to pull me through?


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[1] Katherine Keller, Entrepreneur Magazine. To Motivate Yourself to Success, Find Your Why

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