More than a decade ago, Simon Sinek wrote "Start With Why". To this day, it's one of my favorite tools for learning how to become a better leader and "inspire everyone to take action".
Since its publication in 2009, I have worked for four different companies (two agencies, two in-house). I've managed 32 direct reports, countless projects in several verticals including the complicated beast that is healthcare. The North star Sinek establishes here is elusive, hard, and also incredibly rewarding.
I've walked teams through the "why" exercise and it can be both fascinating and frustrating, but it is always illuminating. We can define what we do and how we do it, but can we define why we do it?
Companies have (or should have:) a mechanism for creating and sharing their "why" and it's optimal if everyone agrees what it is. Organizational goals and user goals are table stakes.
But individuals have their why too. As the year comes to a close and we ponder our why, I am deeply grateful to the people who continue to help me find my professional why.
We spend (give or take) 90,000 hours or nearly 1/3 of our lives at work. For most of us, our why is compensation. It's how we fund our security (homes, cars, utilities, insurance), our experiences (travel, food, adventure), our support of our family and community, and our other values around money. Our why might include our professional title.
For many of us, our why is being in service to work we believe in, improving how users experience our brand, product, or service and engaging with smart, challenging, lovely humans.
A year into Covid, I received a gift that crystallized my why. I was leaving one job and starting another and my team made a scrapbook for me. More than 40 pages of solid gold joy. They captured wisdom and reflection from 25 people whom I had the great privilege of knowing and working with. This gift wasn't just a farewell, it was acknowledgement. Of what we accomplished together, what made it great, what made it wildly difficult and how we managed it collectively.
I am still learning from and being inspired by that gift. It's a reminder that people may not always remember what you say or do, but they will remember how you made them feel. This book was hard evidence that we worked really hard together to make each other feel valued, heard, and respected. It was a reminder that the small moments make as big an impression as the big ones. Our rituals (whiteboard sessions and innovation days), our sayings (you can't put the s%$& back in the donkey), our farewells and our precious time together are about more than doing the work and achieving organizational goals. It lives beyond employers and projects. It honors those 90,000 hours and each other.