Monday, February 8, 2016

The Power of Why

I’ve just returned from Los Angeles where I attended a three-day congregation of my colleagues.  These events always have a wonderful effect on me and this occasion was no exception. 

Every day was packed with breakout sessions, each better than the last.  I left feeling that I needed another day to get to all those I wished to attend.  The last of these was titled “The Power of Why”.  A gentleman named Kevin, whose petite stature was contrary to the cowboy image of his home province of Calgary, led the discussion. 

Kevin began with a reference to the oft-viewed TED talk by Simon Sinek (How Great Leaders Inspire Action) but quickly segued from a corporate to a personal perspective.  Our values drive our behavior in our most important relationships, he asserted.  The PowerPoint slide listed them – family, friends, colleagues, customers and so on. 

But this was a participatory exercise not a slide show.  First question – no time to ponder -- what is your “Why”?  One word, write it down.  Then write a few sentences to explain how that word drives your behavior. 

Sociologist Brene Brown, through her writing and in another powerful TED talk, teaches us that all humans crave connection with others.  That’s the word I wrote down: connection.  That’s my “Why” and the weapon I yield in my inner quest to connect to others is to smile. 

I never catalogued the lessons I learned from my mother until I eulogized her.  Among them was to greet people with a smile.  Until Kevin mildly coerced us into writing down our “Why”, I never realized how these two seemingly disparate ideas were joined.  Smile when you greet someone and they usually smile in return.  BANG!  Instant connection. 

But true connection only comes after that first smile.  A smile can be superficial.

“Hi, John.  How have you been?”

“Great.  And you?”


Friendly, for sure.  But no connection whether the conversation started with a smile or not.  To make a true connection, we have to permit ourselves to be vulnerable.  “In our culture,” says Dr. Brown, “we associate vulnerability with emotions we want to avoid such as fear, shame, and uncertainty. Yet we too often lose sight of the fact that vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity, and love.”

I think this is harder for men than women.  As one of my Vistage colleagues reminds us, “ten thousand years ago – back in the caves –vulnerability could lead to death whether by the claw of a saber-toothed tiger or a spear in your chest.”  So, my desire to make a connection with people necessitates overcoming several millennia of counter-programming.

Doing so requires courage, commitment and reciprocity.  It requires focus, compassion and openness.  That’s why I enjoy my work with Vistage.  All of these elements are required to get the full benefit of the program.  And, those who join our peer groups sign up for it – all of it.

I have reached this point only after a lifetime of playing the role of alpha-male.  That’s what was expected of me.  Only recently, have I learned that most of the unhappiness in my life has been the result of trying to live up to the expectations of others.  What truly drives me is making that connection with another human being.  That’s at the center of my values. That’s my “Why”.

In my soon-to-be-published book, The Reluctant CEO:  Succeeding without Losing Your Soul, the protagonist faces failure in his hero’s journey until he can reconcile his values with his behavior.  In other words, he needs to find his “Why”.

“Your values are what gets you up in the morning,” he is told by those closest to him.

If you don’t behave according to your values, you will constantly be at odds with yourself.  You’ll be in physical distress, treat others badly and destroy the relationships that you value most.

So, what about you?  What’s your “Why”? What do you value most?


1 comment:

  1. My "why" is relationships. Deep, abiding, loving, and caring at the deepest possible level. To achieve this a relationship requires the courage to be truly vulnerable. This can be very scary but the rewards are often mountain top experiences.