Don’t Forget to Ask Why

While “the what” of an object or experience can be important, don’t forget to share “the why” – the vision and purpose informing it.

by Bob Leventhal

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crossposted from B’yachad Leadership

As the sales manager in our family cleaning products business, I knew that buyers did not focus on features; they looked to see why they would benefit from the decision… How would this product help them meet their goals? On sales calls, our sales force would often slip into making long lists of product features. To be honest, I often lapsed myself. I wanted to share the percent of water we could wring out with each squeeze of the O-Cedar Twist N’ Mop.

When I left the cleaning business and moved into congregational consulting I assumed leaders would focus more on selling the intangible- “the why.” Why be Jewish? Why belong to a synagogue? I assumed we would appeal more to emotion. What I found was that most synagogue leaders made their appeal based on features- “the what!”

Typical mission statements often announce that a kehilla is “a Conservative synagogue serving the Eastern New Jersey area.” They list their offerings – “their what.”

  •  Shabbat Services
  • Holiday services and programs
  • Adult education
  • Pre-school
  • Religious school
  • Teen programs
  • Opportunities for social justice
  • Caring committees

They seldom focused on “The Why!

Why Start With Why?

Simon Sinek has written about that the importance of asking why. You can get a quick overview of his ideas by listening to his TED Talk.

Sinek believes that we make most of our major decisions with our gut. Our decisions are shaped by the part of the brain that controls emotion. This is a view that is shared by Daniel Goleman. (Primal Leadership). Sinek argues that we make many decisions with our emotions and then find logical rationale to support what we feel. Anyone who has observed our polarized American politics can document this pattern.

Given the importance of emotion in gaining hearts and minds of people, Sinek argues that it is critical that we explain people “the why.”  We need to get them to buy into the dream. In his TED talk he uses the example of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. King did not focus on every detail of the civil rights agenda. He focused on the dream. People of all ages and races came to Washington because they embraced the vision of a God-given sense of individual dignity that might be more powerful than the political and economic might of the ruling order.

Given this lesson, Sinek suggests that innovative and inspirational leaders start with their purpose first and then explain “How” and “What”.  Sinek describes three steps:

Sinek-Normal Process Sinek-Innovative and Inspirational  Process
What? Why?
How? How?
Why? What?

 Synagogue Leaders With A Purpose

Jewish communal observers have noted that today’s young Jews are less ethnic. They are not going to join a synagogue just to be with fellow Jews or to escape from anti-Semitism.  They believe that they are the final arbiter of what they should do.  They are also less conforming. They are not going to join because society says they should. In such an environment synagogues have to show why belonging to a synagogue will make a difference in their lives. It has never been more important than ever to explain why, to have a sense of purpose.

In United Synagogue’s Sulam Leadership Program, we went to the trouble to create a new framework for describing goals. We called them P.A.C.T Goals. They start with purpose.

P- Purpose– Why are we doing this? How does it relate to our mission, vision and purpose?

A- Action– What are we going to do?

C- Capacity– How will we do it? What people and resources and knowledge will we need?

T- Timeframe– When will we do it?

Let’s look at what this might look like:

Example: Share Shabbat Program

PACT Process  Example
P- Purpose– Why are we doing this? Help members take time toshare the beauty, joy and holiness of Shabbat with other families
A- Action– What are we going to do? Create a “Share Shabbat” program that helps families share Shabbat by matching hosts and guests. Share family Shabbat resources (guides to prayers, songs, parsha).
C- Capacity– How will we do it? We will create a committee to share the responsibility to organize 4 weekends
T- Timeframe– When will we do it? Once a month starting January through April


Vision to Action

Leaders may want to just write their goals “what, who and when.” In the Sulam for Strategic Planners program, we spend a lot of time on Vision. We have worked hard to make the connection between vision and action. Vision can certainly inspire action. It can’t inspire action, however, if it is buried away in a binder that says “Work Completed.” In order to insure this connection we need to nudge our leaders to take the time build a bridge between the why and the how. If they do they may find they have more followers stepping forward.