Why Leaders Should Explain The Big Why

Question Mark

When was the last time someone told you what to do without explaining the reason behind their directive? What was your reaction? Did you unquestionably cooperate?

For many people, including myself, directives evoke defenses. At best, they generate compliance. But, when you take the time to tell me “why” something needs to be done, I am not only much more likely to do it – I am much more likely to be happy about doing it.

From a leadership perspective, this is what I call “The Big Why.” People want to know the reasons behind what you are asking them to do. Whether it’s a major change initiative or a simple change to the project plan.

The challenge for leaders is that they often fail to give people the context behind a decision and simply communicate the content of the decision. It’s critical that leaders understand the distinction. Context is the underlying framework and underpinnings that inform the content. Content is simply the information about the topic at hand. Context comes from the all of the time that leaders spend strategizing, debating, analyzing, and processing about the consequential decisions they are making. And, they have to realize that many employees may not have been part of that process.

For example, take the leadership team who spent over six months developing their 5-year strategy. The market research, competitive analysis, dialogue and debate set the context for the plan – the “why.” But, when they rolled-out the plan to the masses, they focused on sharing the content  – the objectives, work plans, information, and details. And, they overlooked explaining the “Big Why” – the rationale and reasoning that weave it all together.

What do you think the results were? (hint hint….underwhelm, lack of commitment, lack of emotional buy-in.) I’d love to hear your thoughts – how do you ensure people understand the “Big Why” in your organization?

Stay tuned for the next post and I’ll explore ways to best communicate the “Big Why” and…why.