The inner “why” of leadership

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Time for Cayman to “think different”

Back to: Recapturing the “why” of Cayman

Last month’s column focused on the simple thought that
public service organisations can only be effectively changed by public servants
themselves. To do this in any organisation, public or private, requires
powerful leadership.

This month, then, the focus is on leadership, but not
just at the top, but with individuals at all levels in the hierarchy. How,
though, can changes be lead from all levels? The answer is in the “why”.

Simon Sinek’s book ‘Start with Why’, talks about the
‘Golden Circle’, in fact three concentric circles. The outer circle is the
‘what’, the middle circle the ‘how’, and the inner circle the ‘why’. Almost
anyone in any company or organisation can articulate ‘what’ they do, and also
‘how’ they do it. However, ask them to clearly articulate their ‘why’ and
things get interesting.

The vast majority of all organisations think from outside
to in, from ‘what’ to ‘how’ to ‘why’. Inspired leaders go from inside to out.
Start with the ‘why’ and you create a set of beliefs and values that underpin
every ‘how’ and ‘what’. Start with the ‘why’ and you will hire people who
believe, not people just there for the pay cheque generated by their part in
the ‘what’.

As Sinek illustrates, Martin Luther King didn’t stand in
front of 250,000 people in Washington and say “I have a plan”, he said “I have
a dream”. Not one of those people came there for him; they came there for
themselves, for a shared belief.

Consultants often focus on the ‘how’. Though the ‘why’
means nothing if the ‘how’ isn’t well designed and executed, the different
approach of business coaches often creates higher value by helping clients
first establish and articulate their ‘why’ before moving on to the ‘what’ and

Such “coaching” is a rapidly growing field, but though
the likes of Apple and Google show what can be achieved by focusing on the
‘why’, equally powerful results can and should be achieved with public service
organisations. As they exist solely to serve the public good, they have the
potential to generate even more power from articulating their ‘why’ and
spreading and embedding belief and purpose in something not aimed at commercial
profit, but at a more noble cause.

Spreading that belief in a cause and purpose creates
power and that leads back to how everyone can be a leader. Where your work is
driven by cause, purpose, belief, you become a leader, no matter where you are
in the hierarchy.

For those at the top of the public service hierarchy it
may be daunting to try to make everyone a leader, but diffusion of innovation
theory shows the way. You don’t need everyone to believe at once. Every
population has about 2.5 per cent who are ‘innovators’, so will help you
develop, articulate and begin to communicate your ‘why’. The next 13.5 per cent
are the early adopters. From a consumer standpoint, these are the people who
stand in line for the latest gadget. From a ‘why’ standpoint, these are the
ones who “get it”. Once you get to that one in six public servants who believe
in your ‘why’, it will take hold in the rest. Marketers call getting to that
one in six “crossing the chasm”, so it isn’t easy, but with a powerful ‘why’ to
believe in, it can be done.

What, then, is Cayman’s ‘why’ for the public service and
how can it best be communicated? This is for public service leaders to say, but
let me know what you think, let’s keep the conversation going.


Reinvent or Die: Tom McCallum, McCallum Solutions