Boost Your Leadership Skills in 1 Step: Don’t Forget the Why

Why is Why so Important in Leader’s Communication Toolbox?  

Why can be a very powerful word for a leader. It can transition into a great conversation that can lead to a supervisor having a ton more information about their employees.

Asking why can help managers find the motivation for employee’s actions. If used correctly, asking why can show your subordinates that you care.

  • Why do you need time off?
  • Why can’t you get the order completed?
  • Why has your production slowed down lately?
  • Why have you been showing up to work late?

Finding out the why leads to a lot more clarity. Why can either validate or invalidate the employee’s actions or requests by telling you their motivations. Knowing the motivations can help you make a much better, more informed decision as a leader.

Learning the why also gives you a chance to help your team member with their problems. Helping your team eliminate barriers to their getting job done, should be one of your main goals as a supervisor.

Related content: The Difference Between Managing and Leading.

A Leader Asks Themselves Why.

Determining your own motivations is also important in becoming a better leader.

  • Why do I have the goals I have?
  • Why do I push myself so hard?
  • Why am I pushing my team so hard?
  • Why am I working so many hours?

The answers to these questions may surprise you. We don’t always take the time we need to self-reflect. This helps you determine if your actions are worth continuing to pursue.

A lot of times when you ask yourself why you will realize your goals or motivations are not beneficial to the goals or motivations of the team and the company you work for. Determining this allows you to adjust your goals and motivations or focus your time and energy on something that is beneficial for everybody.

The 5 Whys.

The five whys is a technique used to get to the root of problems. It is a simple process where you determine a problem and ask why until you get to the root of it.

Say you had an employee, Jim, that used to be one of your top performers. As of late he has been slacking on productivity and showing up to work late. You can use the five whys to determine the root cause.

Although it’s called the five whys, you may not need all five whys or may need more whys to get to the root cause. The important thing is to keep going until you get to the root cause of the problem.

This can be used for more complex problems where you come up with more than one reason at various whys in the stages of the five whys. When that happens, you need to continue to ask why for each reason until you get to the root cause for each reason. This may lead to multiple root causes, meaning there are multiple issues that need to be fixed.

See this great article for more information on the 5 whys.

Why Leads to How?

Determining why gives you a clearer picture of the how.

  • How are you going to fix the problem?
  • How are you going to achieve your goals?
  • How am I going to ramp up production without killing my team?

In the five whys example above, we determined that Jim is showing up to work late because his kid is in the hospital with an illness. Now as a supervisor and a leader you can determine the best way to handle this situation. Maybe you give Jim some extra time off, until his kid gets better. Maybe you adjust Jim’s hours so he can be there for his kid but not miss work.

This shows Jim you care about him and when it’s all done, he will be more likely to return to his old productive self.

If you hadn’t determined the root cause and tried to fix the issue, the conversation would have been completely different. It would have been more of a one-sided conversation telling Jim he needs to pick up his pace. This would have left Jim feeling angry and added more stress to his already stressful situation. Even when his kid is better, he may not be the same in the workplace.

Importance of Tone and Body Language

Communication is 7% the words we say, 38% the tone you say them in, and 55% your body language you express. Try crossing your arms and saying “I love you” in an angry tone to your significant other. I bet your significant other will be confused or worse yet may get mad at you.

Be wary of your tone and body language when asking others why. Using the wrong tone or body language can have the opposite effect. The tone and body language should be sincere, caring, and empathetic. It should not be snappy, angry, or disbelief. Even if the words are correct, a subordinate may hear “Why should I do this for you?”

Be careful not to sound and look sarcastic when asking why. You want to use the question why to get others to open up, but the wrong tone and/or body language may make them shut down.

How to Use This as a Leader.

Implementing this into your everyday life is extremely simple. You can start with asking yourself why then moving on to others.

Too often I have seen employees come up to supervisors and ask them something only to get the answer they weren’t hoping for and begin to walk away. I always stop these employees even if they aren’t in my chain of command and ask them why only to find out a lot of times, they have a legitimate reason for their request. Typically, after discussing that reason with their leadership, they are granted their request.

Employees don’t always open up because they don’t think their managers care. As leaders, it’s our job to let them know we care even if we can’t fulfill their request.

See this great article about Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” for additional information.

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