Tell Me the Why

February 6th, 2014 | Leadership

Guest Post by Cheryl Bachelder

Observation: When our toddler children asked us the “why” question all day long we thought it was charming. It meant they were curious, smart, and exploring the world to learn new things. Then we got to the workplace as adults and things changed. Those people asking “why” questions all day long became annoying and problematic. Their questions became pesky interference in our plan to get the job done fast. Wonder “why” that is so?

Over the weekend, I was reading Kouzes and Posner’s recent book, The Truth About Leadership. In research, the authors found that the top three characteristics of admired leaders are honest, forward-looking and inspiring. So if I want to be an admired leader, I need to tell my people the truth, help them know where we are going (the vision) and inspire them to pursue that vision. To inspire or motivate the people, I need to share the “why.”

In short, admired leaders answer the “why” question for the people.

Knowing “why” you are working on something elevates the importance of the work and your engagement in the work. If the “why” is something that matters to you, then the work matters to you. If the “why” inspires you, then you are inspired by the work. If the “why” energizes you, then the work is energizing. The obvious corollary is if the “why” doesn’t matter to you, then the work doesn’t matter much. If the “why” doesn’t inspire or energize you, then the work is mundane, boring, or worse.

Hardwork is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.
Malcolm Gladwell

So my challenge to you today, is to make sure you are taking time to explain the “why” at work. When you assign work, you always give a goal or due date. You usually discuss the expectations for the work. But have you explained the “why” behind the work? Have you taken time to inspire your people? Have you asked the people “why” they are energized about this work? Do you know if they have a different “why” than you do?

He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.
Friedrich Nietzsche

Our human condition is that we need to have a why. We need to know that we are doing something that matters. We need to know we are valued. We look to our leaders to tell us the “why” at work. Be a leader that can answer the “why” questions at work.


Cheryl A. Bachelder is a passionate restaurant industry leader who serves as CEO of Popeyes® Louisiana Kitchen, a global chain of 2000+ restaurants. Cheryl is known for reinvigorating great brands and inspiring leaders to reach their full potential – and the business results follow. She has enjoyed a rewarding career working for some terrific leaders at Procter &Gamble, Gillette, Nabisco, Domino’s Pizza and Yum brands.  Cheryl blogs at The Purpose of Leadership  You can follow Cheryl on Twitter



From Bob – Special Announcement:  My friend Michael Marquardt’s revised & updated “Leading with Questions” book will be released on February 24.  You can pre-order your copy “Here”


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