“Why are we doing this?”
“I have no idea. It makes no sense to me, either.”
—Email exchange between two employees
Why? is a simple question. If you are a parent, it is a question that you may have tired of hearing from your three-year-old. Even at that age, the question made sense to the toddler, though your answer may not have been acceptable to him. The fallback line of “because I said so” may have been okay at the time for the toddler, but that it didn't work too well with your teenager, did it? It's not a good line to try on your team, either.
From a young age, people seek meaning for doing the things they do. Everyone has an innate need to know why things are the way they are, work the way they work, and what difference it makes. Understanding why provides purpose and direction. Everyone will move forward together only after “why” is clearly understood.
A leader's reluctance or refusal to answer why is a source of frustration, apathy, and aggravation. It is easy for your team to criticize a decision if they only know what you decide and not why you decided it. If you cannot answer why you are asking someone to do something, then you need to ask yourself why.
Understanding why changes perspectives. Stephen Covey shared a story to emphasize how a person's perspective can be changed in an instant—even when unexplainable things are happening—if they understand why:
I remember a mini-Paradigm Shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in ...