Simon Sinek says in his book Start with Why that, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” In my own personal development, as a person in general, and especially as a leader, I’ve been searching for my why. Having a why is so important. Daniel Pink wrote in his book Drive that “adding certain kinds of extrinsic rewards on top of inherently interesting tasks can often dampen motivation and diminish performance.” The old motivation model of carrots and sticks no longer work. So the question remains, how do I find a why that will motivate me towards enriching and fullfilling life experiences?

There are a few things that I have found that have worked pretty well so far. The first is to push myself into uncomfortable situations and observe how well I perform when there is a strong sense of unknowns to the task. In seeking out opportunites like informal leadership, public speaking, and learning new technologies I continually find intrinsic rewards in accomplishing something I never thought I would be any good at. I have found within myself a why that says I must be unique and I must not fit a mold that anyone else may have put on me. I want to be a person that is novel and a surprise even to those who think they know me well. I find this challenge even more rewarding than a job that offers a huge paycheck.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

  • Simon Sinek
  • Start With Why

Perhaps one example of this in my life happened when I was transitioning from life in the Navy back to the civillian world. Many of my colleagues impressioned on me how I could take my security clearance and the knowledge I had in information security and land a pretty cushy job working for a defense contractor in the Washington, D.C. area. But that didn’t feel right. Having a cushy job that paid well was not a compelling why for me. So I took my family back home to Michigan with no job in mind and just started searching. I applied for a job at Our Daily Bread Ministries as a web developer. I had very little experience programming for the web. But the job not only promised the opportunity to serve a mission in line with my faith, but also the opportunity to learn something new.

I applied for the job, was offered a position at a salary much less than I probably would have gotten had I stayed in D.C., but I quickly experienced fullfillment beyond what any money would have given me. I’m constantly faced with new challenges, embarking in heuristic work that requires taking chances and trying things out. I am given the freedom to fail and learn from my mistakes. I am given the opportunity to work with a team that is also continuously learning and experimenting and sharing ideas. It’s a team full of multipliers; leaders and colleagues that enrich each other.

Liz Wiseman in her book Multipliers said that, “Multipliers establish a unique and highly motivating work environment where everyone has permission to think and the space to do their best work.” This describes perfectly the team that I work on. This was not the example that I found while doing government work. Government work is much more algorithmic.

Multipliers establish a unique and highly motivating work environment where everyone has permission to think and the space to do their best work

  • Liz Wiseman
  • Multipliers

It doesn’t like freethinkers that chance failure. It rewards safety and efficiency rather than risk taking and innovation. I’m happy I found a place that helps me embrace and further develop my why.

This is part of a 6 week series I will be writing as I continue to develop my leadership qualities as part of a course I am taking at Kendall College of Art and Design. Read part two!

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