“Why factor” in leadership

Why Factor

People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.

Simon Sinek (Start with why)

To bind teams together it is essential to have a shared culture of purpose and to feed all the involved parties` WIIFM factor (What’s in it for me?). At the heart of managing both of these well is understanding the “why factor” of all involved. The “why factor” encompasses: personal, team and even society reasons “why” people do things and is both logical and emotional in nature. It is the key component behind our motivation to do something and hence it is extremely powerful as a leader to tap into and harness the influence of “why”. To know how to do this, it is useful to breakdown the types of “whys” into groups and types, broadly speaking these are:

  • Personal Motivational Why: why should i care about what i am doing? Why is it in my interest? Why will i be willing to give extra to achieve success?
  • Team Motivation Why: why is in the group’s interest? Why should personal motivation be put second to the group’s? Why should we follow the same why?
  • Value Based Why: why is this morally the right thing to do? Why do I or the company need to sacrifice our own personal and team whys for the greater good?
  • Logical Why: why is it logically the most sensible and obvious thing to do? Why does it triumph my emotional want? Why must I give in to logic despite my feelings?
  • Emotional Why: why is this so important to how I and others feel? Why can i not bow to logic with this why? Why am i emotionally connected to this?

Understanding and using the “why factor” allows us to tap into the motivations of others and hence influence the direction they take.

So what are the ways to use the why factor?

One of the key uses of the “why factor” by leaders is to “start with why” in delegation. What this implies is that when you are delegating effectively, you will focus on the objective to be achieved over the way to do it. It is not likely anyone will commit to objectives without understanding why it matters, hence “start with why”. Why it matters is what purpose does it achieve? What elements does it improve? What difference does it make and why does it matter to me or to my values to achieve it?  Outlining well the why factor in delegation is essential if you want your team to be autonmous and be as commited as you to achieveing the goals needed.

Great leaders start with why when delegating effectively.

Another important use of “why reasoning” is using it as a motivational tool. One of the most challenging aspects of leadership is to maintain team morale when pushing a long haul objective which requires right now short term sacrifices. An effective and experienced manager will fast learn how important the team identifying with “the why” of an objective is to team motivation. Indeed an effective leader will utilise the backward planning model starting project presentations to staff with the end long term vision. They will then highlight the benefits their team will have or experience when the objective is achieved. Done well, this will inspire their team to connect with the difference achieving the objective will make to them. This “motivational why” can give purpose to a team and give reason – be that logical or emotional – to fall back on when times are tough and sacrficies are needed. 

At heart of a successful team accomplishing a long term goal is a team identification with why achieving the objective matters.

When we are pursuing a long term project or dealing with a difficult situation, the use of the “why” as a trigger response can be a self empowering tool. The “why it matters” trigger is summed up perfectly with the phrase: “if you feel like quitting, remind yourself why your started”. However the “why trigger” will only work if you, or a team member, have really connected to the why of the work you are doing. This connection as mentioned can be “group” or “personal” based and might be motivated by emotional, logical or value based reasoning or a mixture but it must always connect with “why it matters” to you to sacrifice now in order to achieve a new outcome in the longer term. Clever managers not only “press” their own “why it matters” triggers but also learn how to do it in personal manner with those they manage, using it in feedback sessions to get staff back on track when needed.

Why it matters to me” trigger is an effective thought response reaction when you feel like qutting.

One of the most essential characteristics of a great leader is the capacity to create shared purpose for their team. The secret behind creating this culture of purpose and of getting your team to push in the same direction is very often found in leaders connecting team members sense of why we doing this and why it matters. It is much easier to trust and think of others, when you sense their purpose and reasoning – their whys – are similar to our own. Tapping into this power of “why” can join teams of people not only logically, i.e this long improvement will save us all work time or give us all a bonus, but also in deeper emotional or value connection way, i.e. teachers know the effort they each put into a problematic child can change that child’s life. Therefore behind every great example of team work is a firm connection to why each individual is doing the work they are.Imagen1

Great leaders know how to tap into “why it matters” in order to bind teams in purpose.

The final “why factor” to bear in mind is how “why reasoning” is needed to the create powerful connection between the logical (reasoning, brain power) and the emotional (heart, passion), the synergising of the right and left of the brain. Human beings are at their most effective and resourceful when they logical understand why things matter, i.e. it achieves this concrete thing, AND emotionally connect with the real difference their energies and actions can make, i.e. it changes the life of these people. Great project managers are ones who can logically explain the difference something makes and also get passionate buy in to what transformation the project will have in an emotional way for the team. When you combine these two factors, there is little your team won’t do to achieve the goal.

People are at their most effective when they connect the logical why with the emotional why.


Great managers use the “why factor” in almost everything they do, be that starting off a project, delegating an objective or motivating their team for the long haul. Why it matters, why it is worth it is at the heart of motivation and a binding factor of great team work. Great leaders know why they do what do and learn how to buy their team into their own whys too and then they connect all this to objectives they and their team need to achieve. Behind any successful team is a deep connection with “why” their work matters.

Great managers learn to use the why factor as a leadership tool.

Using the why factor in leadership


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s