What is your ‘Why’?

Growing up, all I ever wanted was to finish school, get a job and make a living, period!  The purpose and meaning (Why) of what I did was no big deal at the time.

In my mid-career, suddenly, the urge to do something that really mattered became of paramount importance. I realised I was evolving and I was no longer comfortable with where I was.


Along the way I became interested in finding and speaking with people who are inspired by what they do.


Eventually, I came across an interesting story on the Internet about a NASA Janitor. The story is told that during a visit to the NASA space center in 1962, President John F. Kennedy noticed a janitor sweeping the floor.


He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said, “Hi, I’m John Kennedy. What are you doing?”.

“Well, Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon,” the janitor responded.

Wow! When I read this I was amazed. What I found interesting in the janitor’s response is that the question was about “What he did” but he responded with ‘Why he did what he did”.

I have come to understand that the Why behind what we do is more important than ‘What’ we do. The janitor got it! He didn’t see himself as just a cleaner but as a contributor to a bigger vision and that is Why he woke up every morning - “helping to put a man on the moon”.

I still wonder how the cleaner got the vision so clearly and yet, in my experience I have witnessed how hard it is to sell a vision to even a group of senior managers in an organisation.

I was once facilitating a management team coaching session when I asked the team to share the reason for the existence of their organisation. The first person to respond said: “we exist to make money for the shareholders”. While there is nothing wrong with making money for the shareholders, it would not be the reason of being but rather a result of the implementation of the organisation’s vision.

As long as we still have a receptionist seeing him/herself as one who answers phone calls, a finance manager, viewing himself as one in control of finances, the CEO, the one who is making money for shareholders and keeping them happy, then we are a far from achieving the desired mindset change critical for sustainable transformation of our organisations, families and countries at large.

In this article, I hope to challenge us to search and dig deeper to find a higher meaning of our everyday life, to look beyond our titles, positions, status and instead focus on the ‘W’ behind. This will be the beginning of living a life that actually matters.

This is what I have observed, people are not inspired by well articulated job descriptions, rules and regulations, people are looking for something big to believe in, a cause to be part of and a vision that can stir up a passion in them, giving them a reason to wake up in the morning.

Simon Sinek, author of “Start With Why”, observes that the ‘Why’ is not about money or profit. ‘Why’ is the thing that inspires us and inspires those around us”. I believe this too.  Imagine waking up every morning to help Rwanda become a middle-income country or transform into a dynamic global hub for businesses or evolve into the technology hub for the region and continent. That would be exciting!.

I believe that it is the primary role of every leader to inspire those they lead. The leadership trait  “visionary” used to sound cliché to me. But now more than ever, I have come to understand that being a visionary leader means you are not only clear about the vision – the ‘Why’, but you are inspired by it and as a result, those around you are inspired too.

Passion is contagious! If you asked me how to inspire your team to own the vision, this is what I would advise – first, be inspired by your vision/Why. Second, be intentional about spreading the passion to the rest of the team. It will be a matter of time, the passion and inspiration will spread throughout the team.  But it starts with you!

So, what is your why?. Are you “helping send a man to the moon”?  If you have not found the ‘Why’, keep searching for it! You will find it!

The author is an Independent Coach with the John Maxwell Team and a former Operations Manager and Project Specialist at UNFPA in Rwanda and at the UN/HQ, NYC.  www.ab-leadership.com.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

You want to chat directly with us? Send us a message on WhatsApp at +250 788 310 999    


Follow The New Times on Google News