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On-Site Staff / Program Design, Development, and Quality / Staff Leadership and Management / Sustainability

Are You Leading With WHY?

Are You Leading With WHY?

What gets you out of bed in the morning — what you do or why you do it? If you are in the youth development field, I have a feeling that your “why” motivates you the most. You’re driven to make a positive difference in the lives of young people.

In his book “Start with Why,” Simon Sinek argues that we are pretty good at saying what we are doing and how we are doing it, but not always good at explaining the why of what we do. His message to the business community: making the why clear can improve leadership and communication and ultimately transform culture. (View his original YouTube video here.)

How does the concept of “Start with Why” apply to non-profits, education, and other service organizations? Whether you’re an executive director or a frontline youth worker or anywhere in between, knowing and communicating your organizational “Why” is essential for motivating staff, fundraising, recruiting employees and interns, and measuring your efforts, to name a few.

In the Community Division of Ann Arbor Public Schools, we’ve incorporated our “why” in different ways:

  • At our regular all-staff meetings, employees are encouraged to share “Mission Moments.” These are real examples of how our mission (“why”) came to life for that staff person when interacting with a volunteer, family, or child.
  • After an organizational change brought new areas of service into the division, we held a retreat to discuss our individual and collective “Why/How/What.” This led to many “ah ha” moments — areas of common purpose that result in different programs and services. I’m hopeful that the collaboration among our diverse division staff will be easier and more effective as a result.
  • When debating whether or not to continue a long-running program, we talked about how well it served (or no longer served) our organizational “why.”

Starting with “why” can increase motivation and trust for new and long-term staff. How do you and/or your organization use your “why” as a touchstone for communication, culture, or leadership?

For breakfast, I had a bowl of cereal and a cup of locally-processed Roos Roast coffee.

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Author: @jennabacolor

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