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Discovering Your Why

Discovering Your Why

In Simon Sinek’s 2009 TEDx Talk he discusses the importance of organizations and individuals defining their WHY. He suggests that people buy from you not because of what you do but because of why you do it. He goes on to define why as a purpose, cause or belief. He uses the example of Apple whose “WHY” is “In everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo; we believe in thinking differently.”

As I talk to my clients and participants in my seminars, they often wonder, “How do I and my business discover my WHY?” It isn’t as easy as going to your local Walmart and pulling one of the shelves. It takes introspection and time to find what is important to you.

To discover our WHY, we cannot rely on logic or reason alone, because our WHY is shaped within the Limbic System where our emotions, memory, learning, and motivation exists or as Sinek explains the part of the brain which allows us to make the right decisions.

So how do we discover our WHY?

Before I answer that let’s go back to a time when humans gathered around an open fire and told stories. The storyteller enchanted the villagers by weaving tales of love and war, tragedy and comedy, and real and fantasy. The storyteller knew instinctively that those stories that best tapped into the emotions of the villagers were best remembered.

When we are defining our WHY, we want it to have the same reaction as those stories of yesteryear. We want it to tap into the emotions of our listeners, whether they are co-workers, customers or investors.

One way to discover our WHY is to tell our story. However, instead of starting in the beginning, it is best to write the last page first. Use the questions below to write the last page of your story.

  • What did you accomplish?
  • What cost (riches, relationships, recognition, or rewards) were you willing to sacrifice?
  • At the end of the story, who stands with you?
  • What was the greatest lesson you learned?
  • What major plot twist changed your life?
  • What challenges did you overcome?
  • How did you leave the world the better place?
  • Paint the scene – where are you at the end of the story?
  • What conflict did you triumph over?
  • What drove you to achieve his or her dreams?


After you finish answering the questions you should have a better understanding of what you want to accomplish, how you will do it and why it is important for it to happen.


For instance, when I did this exercise, it looked like this.


MY WHY:  Great Leaders Make Organizations Better.

MY HOW: Providing the necessary guidance and tools to leaders.

MY WHAT: Executive Coaching, Leadership Workshops, Writing, Keynote Speaking


Your turn, what is your WHY: and how does it relate with your HOW and your WHAT.


MY WHY: ________________________________


MY HOW: ________________________________


MY WHAT: ________________________________


In doing my research, about defining our WHY, I came across this quote.

Purpose is a definitive statement about the difference you are trying to make in the world.

Does your WHY fit within this above definition?


I recently read a book called, “Why Should I Choose You? (In Seven Words or Less).” It asks us to define our purpose differentiator in seven words. The authors, Chamandy and Aber, believe that by forcing their clients to identify their purpose differentiator within seven words, it makes them focus on what is the most important to them. One example they used in the book was VHA Home Health Care's core proposition "More Independence."  It not only works for their aging population but also works for their frontline employees giving them the freedom to make decisions and innovate.


When I finished reading the book, I attempted to do this for my business. And came up with the following: A Better Guide to Leadership. I don’t think it is perfect and I probably need to continue working on it but it does complement my WHY: Great Leaders Make Organizations Better.


It is your turn now, what is your purpose differentiator and can you write it in seven words or less.


My Purpose Differentiator is _______________________________



As The Leadership Guide, I help small business owners, entrepreneurs, corporate executives and first-time managers achieve better business results through coaching. One of the mistakes I find most leaders make is they try to go it alone. This behavior is due to many factors including believing they have no choice (they do), trying to prove their worth (they won’t) and not knowing guidance is available (it is).

When we ask for guidance, we admit to ourselves that we want to get better. And for my clients, this can be very liberating.  In my coaching, I specialize in improving successful leaders' behaviors so that they can achieve better business results. When a client is willing to grow, I know that they will reach their goal or dream.

Are you ready to become a Great Leader?


The Leadership Team

The Leadership Team

In his Book Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about how important it is to have the right people on the bus as you lead an organization to greatness. Mr. Collins stresses, and I whole heartily agree, it is not about having one genius and a thousand soldiers. It is about having a team of equals working together to achieve greatness. In his cabinet, Abraham Lincoln had a team of rivals because he wanted to get best people for his team.

Below is a crucial list of items to consider when building your leadership team;

Diversity of thought: One person, no matter his/her experience, cannot have as great of perspective as a group of individuals. Having a variety of opinions allows old ideas to be challenged and for new ideas to be advanced. In one instance, I was working with a group of leaders to discuss the potential of a significant reorganization of the broadcasting division of a major electronic retailer. We stood in a conference room, talking, arguing, challenging and finally agreeing on the best organizational structure for the department. It was not easy work, but by having a group of individuals, we got to see and hear from a greater perspective than if one person made the decision.

Balance of Strengths: All of us have strengths that we offer to the world, we also have limitations that hold us back. By creating a balance of strengths in a team, we can offset the limitations and build on our individual’s strengths. Working with a small manufacturing company, I noticed that the leadership team was a diverse group of people who had various strengths and limitations. One member was good at communicating and getting messages across; one was an idea generator; one was process driven; one as good at working with people. Separately they could not have succeeded, but together they did some amazing things.  When you are looking to build a team, consider the following strengths: Social + Emotional Intelligence, Communication, Systemic Thinking, Operational and Process Excellence, Technical Expertise, Problem Solving and idea generator. What other strengths should be on your team?

Trust: Trust among team members is crucial to the success of the team. Will the individuals on the team trust each other? Trust is multifaceted. There is trust that each can and will do their job to the best of their ability. Trust that when a team member has limitations, they will ask for assistance. Trust that each is working for the betterment of the team and objective. Trust that although we may disagree, we will continue together to find the best solution. Trust that we can share our concerns and not hear them on the nightly news. Trust happens not by expecting it but by building it.

Work Ethic: Have you ever worked on a project and one individual did a lot less work than all of the others? This lack of work ethic or more precisely this unequal work ethic can negatively impact the team. Work ethic is not just about the amount of time; it is about the amount of effort an individual is willing to dedicate to reaching success for the team. This may mean working long hours. It also may be sacrificing other corporate activities to support the team. When you become a member of a President's Administration, there is a lot of challenging work to accomplished; you cannot expect to work only forty hours each week.

Common Vision: This may challenge the notion of diversity of thought but when you are working together, a shared vision of a better future is necessary, so the team is working toward a single objective. For instance, I served on a non-profit board, and we had the goal of improving our infrastructure. In all of our meetings, we were able to keep this as a focus. However, we had spirit discussion on how best to do this. The shared vision grounds the team on what they are working towards and what they will accomplish.

Level of Expertise: This may be challenging because it is easy to use this as the first measurement for the team. They must have a certain degree of competence in a particular area. And if this is used, you may eliminate diversity of thought, the balance of strengths and trust. However, I do agree that some level of expertise needs to be considered when building a team. In general, you would not want a middle school footballer on a college level team. However, at times, we hold individuals back because they do not have a level of expertise but we could use their strengths in communication or emotional intelligence to balance out the team. In this case, knowing this person limitation as a subject matter expert helps you balance out the team with other subject matter experts. 

Building a leadership team is critical to the success of an organization. My research and experiences have shown me that a leadership team has more impact on an organization than a single leader. When leaders surround themselves with other excellent leaders, the team can achieve great things. There is a trend in the NFL to hire ex-head coaches as assistant coaches, not only can the head coach tap into their skill level and knowledge of the ex-head coach but can also tap into their experience and shorten their learning curve. 

Is your leadership team set? Alternatively, do you need help building your leadership team? If you require assistance, please reach out to me at so together we can create a leadership team that will drive your business success.

John Thalheimer is an expert in Leadership Coaching and Development with a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and over twenty-five years in senior management positions in a variety of industries including Hospitality, Entertainment, Retail, Media, and Manufacturing. He is Executive Director of True Star Leadership, a leadership development firm that specializes in guiding senior leaders and their teams to success. He speaks on Leadership Performance and how to increase individual leadership performance. He is currently writing a book called The Behavioral Algorithm which reflects his belief that managing our behavior is key to successful leadership.

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