The idea:  Legendary San Francisco 49’ers Head coach Bill Walsh once quipped that the secret to becoming a professional organization was “You’ve got to do the corporate culture first.” Two years later, the 49’ers won one of their three Super Bowls during his tenure. Eighty percent of Fortune 100 firms tout their values publicly, values that are often shrouded in inconsistencies.  They are words on a wall, promises un-kept and aspirations that will never be met.  And often, where there should be a guiding inspiration, there is a breach of contract. Your “why” matters, and the healthiest companies and leaders have uncovered their “why.”

This past week I worked with a Chief Customer Officer who, after almost 40 years in the industry, still works relentlessly to improve his leadership and communication skills.  He understands his “why”: it’s the engine that drives his work. He has a gift for mentoring younger members of his team. He is a multiplier of talent; his “why” sets him apart from the competition and is a rallying point for his organization.

What is your “why”?

The facts show that fifty-five percent of all Fortune 100 companies say “integrity” is a core value; forty-nine percent espouse customer satisfaction; forty percent value teamwork. While these are all great qualities, they are hardly differentiators, especially when a company doesn’t have a “why”.  The “Why” is much deeper than a word on a wall, it is your purpose, your calling and the heart of your story.

One’s “why” is the intersection (or sweet spot) of where one’s passions and distinct skills intersect. It’s purposeful, deeply meaningful, and a purpose that calls out your best.

“He who has a why can endure any how.” —  Nietzsche

A great strategy will always fall to a competitor’s passion and purpose.  Organizations that surpass competitors do so because of their purpose (their “why”), not just strategy. If you don’t have a big enough “why” fueling your culture, you are vulnerable.  Those who are impassioned, walk in purpose and carry conviction. IBM’s Ex-CEO, Lou Gerstner, once shared “corporate culture is not part of the game: It is the game.”   The heart of a great culture is a compelling “why.”

It takes real courage to speak with a coach, personal advisor or a friend about your leadership style, weaknesses, blind spots, and how you impact others.  Friends call out your best, and they are fearless about telling you the truth about your flaws.  If you want to get to your “why” you need to understand the truth about how you are showing up and where you thrive.  

There are three questions worthy of exploration at your next team meeting.  

  1. What is your team’s why?
  2. What’s your story?
  3. How do you affect others?

A sculptor chips away at stone to uncover the creation within; likewise, one’s identity (or “why”) is often buried within, waiting to be discovered.  Healthy leaders do not run from these three questions; they embrace their true identity.  They embrace their “why”.

“You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best.  
You want to be considered the only one who does what you do.”                 

– Jerry Garcia