It’s a deliberately provocative question, and no, I don’t think we have it wrong, but I do think we are putting the emphasis in the wrong places when it comes to building your tribe.
It feels a bit like the world has gone ‘why’ mad at the moment – as a result some people are becoming rather self-indulgent about their purpose, sometimes at the expense of connection with the people they want to work with. This is perhaps because we are getting too contrived about why statements, about wanting to have a dramatic story about why we do what we do, or a really compelling reason for being in the business we are in. Sure, a compelling why story helps you to sell in the moment – but it only helps you to genuinely connect and build a community if it is true, if people trust you and if it something that matters to them too.
Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, says “Mistaking our work as our why can make us miserable even when, to the eyes of the world, we seem wildly successful.”
I think the whole ‘why’ thing serves two purposes, it helps you to be really clear about what drives you and it helps you to lead others – whether in business, socially or in your family.
For most of us, our why or purpose is much more about who we are as a human being. Mine, for example is to be an enabler, on the face of it not very glamourous – but underneath that are a whole load of values that underpin who I am in the world, the footprint I want to leave behind, and what I am prepared to do or not. These values, this why, transcends my life – I don’t just show up like this at work, I’m like it as a friend, as a mother, as a daughter, in my social life – it’s who I am. Most people who have truly nailed their why would say the same – this is who I am.
I could, and have, wrapped my why up in mission statement for my life. Sometimes I share bits or all of it when speaking, writing and working with clients. Most often it is a guide for myself – when I get tempted to veer off course, as we all do, it is a reminder of why I am here. I still choose whether to take the detour or not, but I have a point of reference.
Often, it’s not complicated – we know who we are, why we are on the planet, even if it sounds a bit too pretentious, or grandiose to say it out loud. The trouble is as soon as you start with the ‘this is too big for me’ thinking, your reason for being here starts to get lost. It gets buried, layered underneath who you think you should be, what you think others expect of you and what you know you can live up to. This is also known as fitting in, settling and playing small! Once this happens you are on a downward spiral in my view, your world shrinks, your confidence drops and you become governed by your excuses. The way you connect with others changes, and not for the better.
Absolutely, you have to be really clear about why you do what you do – for yourself. It keeps you going in tough times, it helps you to do scary stuff or step out of your comfort zone. It keeps you growing into the person you are here to be.
Part of being that person is leading others and in this context, I am talking about through your business, although it could well be in other parts of your life. It is in business that I think the why emphasis has got slightly skewed. Being able to articulate your why is important – but only in so far as it helps others to connect, to trust and to follow you.
But, and it’s a big but, if you start talking about your why, or your purpose, make sure it’s truly who you are, not what you think sounds good, what you think other people want or what you think people will get behind, because if you don’t believe in it it will show. When something is not quite right, someone is not quite what they say, you pick it up from their vibe, their physiology, sometimes even their discomfort – the same is true for the people you want to connect with.
When it comes to creating connection and building your community, having clarity about your why massively helps you to create emotional connection – but, and this is really important, people connect because something matters to them – not because it matters to you!
So yes, you need to be able to articulate your why, you also need to be super helpful around the things that matter to them. This is where the story (or stories) around your why become really important – not drama filled, just real, connecting and serving the greater good. The emphasis here is on helping others to connect with and address the things that matter to them. You won’t do this through contrived and rehearsed why statements, clever and somewhat embroiled stories of adversity, or content that is all about you. This is about being brave enough to connect human to human, to hold space for others to connect and to gently take them on a journey with you.
Park your need to be right, to look good or to be all-knowing; just be yourself, be curious about the other person and they will tell you how (or if) to develop your connection.