Setting Direction Part 2: Clarifying the Why

Is it worth it?

After asking the first question of Where Are We Going?, the second question soon follows… Why Are We Going There?

This is the reason, the validation for the answer to the question of Where. Why is this direction important? I have found three questions aid me in thinking about this.

1. Is it helpful?

Will it actually do what you want it to do? The direction you've set may be noble and lofty, but will it get you to where you actually need to go to accomplish the task before you? Is this direction strategic? Critical to the success of the mission? Or is it merely the latest idea of a visionary leader or the lowest common denominator a committee could agree upon?

Now this is a tricky one. Some of the best ideas come when you're awakened at two in the morning with a thought. Intuitive leaders tend to be continually processing an idea and then can be hit with a moment of inspiration. For others, it's a painstaking researching, testing and retesting process before the sense of the rightness of the direction is there. How can one know which one to go with?

I would say you look at two factors:

  • First, what's the track record of those using either approach? Not that they have to bat a thousand, but is there a high enough batting average to show a consistency of getting it right? There are some visionary, intuitive leaders who can be quite inspirational and consistently wrong. There can also be those who research something to death and miss the window of opportunity to move in that direction.

  • Second, how can both approaches cross-check each other? The inspirational reason needs some added details and tough questions. The meticulous plodders need to keep the big picture in mind and surrender the need to have all their questions answered before moving ahead.

2. Is it clear?

That is, is the message of the reasons for moving in this direction clear to everyone? I once heard a speaker make the comment that "if there's a mist in the pulpit, there's a fog in the pew." Often times as leaders we're just lazy. We have the overall reasons for moving in a particular direction inside our head somewhere, but we don't do the hard work of good communication.

I think it was Winston Churchill who said he could prepare an hour-long speech in two days but to give a ten-minute speech required two weeks. Brief, concise, and clear communication takes much work. The test is not do you get it but do those you're leading get it?

A follow up question to "*Is it clear?*" is this: Is it still clear? As time goes by and the details and challenges of the process press upon us, we can forget why we were going in this direction in the first place. I found a simple way to keep it fresh is from time to time ask, "Now, why are we doing this?"

3. Is it compelling?

Is it worth all I've got? I was working with an eight-member executive team of an agency who had already kicked off a five-year campaign. This was my first meeting with them. To better understand the importance of this campaign, I handed each of them a 3x5 blank card and asked them to write down two reasons for the campaign.

After a few minutes of scribbling, I went around the room asking each person to give me one of their reasons. This continued until we had all the reasons they had stated.

I then asked them this question, "Which one of these reasons would get you out of bed in the morning?" No one answered. Most dropped their heads. Finally, one of the leaders surrendered the statement, "Not all that compelling are they?"

I responded, "No, they're not. In fact, I would say that not one of your answers would motivate me to give my time, energy, or effort to this project. Need I remind you that you have 300 of your staff showing up here in two days. And it's apparent that you don't really believe in the campaign yourself. We have some soul-searching hard work to do before they show up."

If we are honest with ourselves, we need to repeatedly ask these three questions to keep the Why clear and compelling. As you move forward in the direction you've set, what's your answer to these questions?

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