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Your people want purpose. Take these 3 steps to define your ‘why’

The CEO of Lumanu believes that when your team buys into your raison d’etre, they are going to be much more engaged in their work and produce better results.

Your people want purpose. Take these 3 steps to define your ‘why’
[Source image: 愚木混株 cdd20/Unsplash]

In the early days of a company, or when just starting out as a team lead, it’s easier to stay focused on the main problem you’re trying to solve. But when you start to scale and grow your business and/or teams, perspectives become more diverse and problems become increasingly complex. No matter the size of your company, as a leader you have two choices as you set the direction: You can either micromanage your team (which I don’t recommend), or you can help them understand your “why.”

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In the famous TED Talk, “Start with Why,” Simon Sinek points out that defining your “why” is how you explain your purpose: the reason you exist and get out of bed every morning. He said, “People don’t buy what you do or how you do it, they buy why you do it.” When you successfully communicate your passion behind the “why,” you can help your team prioritize what is most important and motivate them to execute against those priorities.

In 2021, Lumanu more than doubled in size. I knew it was more important than ever to ensure that our “why” permeated everything we did, especially the decisions we were making. Using our “why” to ensure alignment among the growing team was one of the smartest decisions I made. Here are some tips for doing so:

Start with “five whys” to get to the root of the problem

When faced with a key business challenge, I rely on the “five whys” strategy to drill down to the core issue. Start with a problem and ask why it is occurring. Make sure that your answer is grounded in fact. It must be an account of things that have actually happened, not guesses at what might have happened. Ask “why” again and continue the process until you reach the root cause of the problem, and you can identify a countermeasure that will prevent it from recurring. When it’s time to get buy-in from the team on an important issue, I find this strategy really helps people intrinsically understand the problem rather than just taking my thinking at face value.

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Give one reason

Leaders want to make the best decisions possible for their companies to accelerate growth and build trust among teams, but sometimes the choices we encounter are overwhelming. Which new product should we add to our offering? Do we need to allocate more marketing dollars? Reid Hoffman, the cofounder and chairman of LinkedIn, advises simplifying complex decision-making by seeking a single decisive reason to go for it.

In my experience, coming up with a list of many reasons to do something is usually a red flag. I’ve learned that strategic decisions are just as much about what not to do as they are what to do. And as a leader, the more things you can find not to do, the better. In fact, if you can’t land on one decisive reason, or narrow down your priorities, it’s a signal that you need to take a step back and reassess what you’re looking to achieve in the first place.

Communicate your “why”

Figuring out your decision-making style can be a delicate balance. On the one hand, you may be tempted to tell your team exactly what you want them to do and how you want them to do it. On the other hand, you can try to build universal consensus (knowing that it’s impossible to make everybody happy).

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I believe that taking the middle ground is the most effective path. By communicating—and in many cases overcommunicating—why or why not a particular decision was made helps teams feel more involved in the process. Again, when teams truly understand the “why” behind the decision, they are more likely to trust that decision and execute without being micromanaged. Finally, embrace the fact that it is impossible to make everyone happy. Decisions that attempt to cater to everyone end up being non-decisions by default and are typically bad for your users and the business.

The sooner you can define your “why” and align your team on it, the better. When your team buys into your raison d’etre, they are going to be much more engaged in their work and produce better results. By keeping your company’s “why” front and center, decision-making may not necessarily get easier, but it will get smarter. And what company wouldn’t benefit from that?


Tony Tran is the CEO of Lumanu.

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