I have a friend whose granddaughter likes to ask the question, “Why?” to everything she’s told. It’s a great question and understandable given her tiny worldview. I recall when my own son and daughter asked a lot of why questions when they were little. My wife and I were happy to answer because we knew this was how they were making sense of the world.
Unfortunately, as we grow older, many of us begin hesitating to ask this valuable question for fear of appearing naïve or annoying. Thankfully, bestselling author Simon Sinek has made it cool to ask “Why?” again. As part of my series on curiosity, I’d like to take a moment to celebrate inquiry and the power of asking “Why?” because it gets to the heart of your success in the workplace.
If you have curious leaders at the helm, you’ve answered the tough questions about why you exist. And it’s not to make money. As Sinek explains, that’s just a result. He adds that “why” is all about your purpose, cause or belief. For instance, why does your company exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care? These are all great questions. Can you answer each one of them?
I had to answer those same questions in my mind when I was asked to take over a company that was on the ropes in 2008. Saving a company from a stomach flipping descent like ours takes an incredible amount of work. So much work, in fact, that it forces you to ask the nagging “why” questions. Why did this happen when things were going so well? Why are we trying to save the company? Why should we work this hard to turn things around?
But asking those questions, I believe, allowed us to succeed. When we answered them, the mission had clarity, purpose and meaning. And I had a more complete vision of what the future could look like.
When curiosity is at the core of your business philosophy, you find yourself preemptively addressing the guiding principles that end up serving you well later and providing self-corrective measures when your people begin asking about company direction. In my case at Prologis, we found ourselves backing in to these principles when we were up against the wall. Once we had gone through the purpose gauntlet, we found ourselves stronger for it and resolved to succeed.
The next time your staff wants to ask a why-question, embrace the moment. Just like my friend’s granddaughter, they’re simply trying to expand their worldview and determine where or how they fit in. It also means they care enough to ask, and they’ll most likely stick around to help you in the long run if you answer truthfully and with purpose.
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