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Looking In The Mirror Leading With Why

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Over the years, organizations develop certain processes and policies that may have been necessary at the time — but truly are no longer justified. However, they’re so embedded in the system that they’re difficult to shake. That’s when those in charge need to be leading with “Why.” Why are we still going things this way? Why can’t we look for better methodologies? Why is our team structured this way?

Plain and simple, asking “why” forces corporate leadership to do some personal and collective reflecting — and looking in the mirror is not always the easiest thing to do. True introspection, drained of all self-pity, ego, and delusions, can spur radical rethinking, followed by radical action. And that’s a daunting prospect for anyone who’s grown too used to being in their comfort zone.

But the way to do it is through leading with “why.”

Going Beyond Blame


When things go wrong, many leaders, rather than admit to their own mistakes, will point fingers at everything else that’s available. For example…

“It’s the VP of Technology’s fault! She overpromises and underdelivers!”

“It’s the sales team! They’re all incompetent! They couldn’t sell water to a dying man in the desert!”

To me, the worst one of all is this:


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“The customers! They’re all (expletive deleted)!”    

I've heard that one so many times it disturbs me. I always want to say, “Are you kidding me? They're opening their wallets, giving you their money, and they're the problem?” It’s far better to determine why they’re upset, rather than completely ignore their dissatisfaction with your company for whatever reason.

Leading with “Why”   

If you really want to solve a problem, you must keep pushing past your standard knee jerk excuses and look toward the reality of the situation. “Why” questions are a great way to do that. They are generally open-ended questions and answers can be unintentionally revealing. They also make the other person feel less defensive. The Harvard Business Review explained it this way:

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“No one likes to feel interrogated—and some types of questions can force answerers into a yes-or-no corner. Open-ended questions can counteract that effect and thus can be particularly useful in uncovering information or learning something new…”

The article goes on to explain how “closed” questions can introduce bias and manipulation. For example, in one study, parents were asked what they thought was the “most important thing for children to prepare them in life” from a list of responses. Almost two-thirds of parents chose “to think for themselves” from that list. But when the question was asked without supplying potential answers, only 5% came up with that response.

The important idea here is not to “lead the witness.” In other words, when you ask someone a question, don’t frame it in such a way that it will only generate the answer you want. Instead, by leading with “why,” you will empower the other person to broaden the scope of their thought process and open themselves up to a full perspective of what the truth behind the situation is.

And that truth will give you the keys to the best possible solution.