Putting the WHY before the WHAT

How do we get people to engage? To see the bigger picture and buy-in to what it is that we are trying to lead them to? And even beyond the buy-in, to actually play an active role in whatever it is that we’re trying to accomplish.

That’s what this post is about.

You see, I think there is challenge for those who lead. We’ve become really good at the to-do lists and dishing out the tasks (the WHAT) but not so great at reinforcing the reason behind it all (the WHY).

When you are trying to get someone to do something it’s easy to jump straight to the WHAT and forget to start with the WHY… but without the WHY, the WHAT won’t happen with nearly the type of impact that you might expect.

Let me unpack that a bit.


The WHY is the meaning behind the WHAT. It’s the heart, the soul, the big picture view, and the reason why doing the WHAT even matters. When you start with the WHY and clearly communicate it to others, they can see how their contribution makes a difference, even if their part is a small piece of a bigger whole. The WHY is the purpose and it is what people get behind.


The WHAT is the thing you want them to do to help the WHY become what it can be. The WHAT is the action, the steps from A to B, the day to day and beyond.


The problem though is that we often focus so much on the WHAT that we forget to continually reinforce the WHY. And when there’s all WHAT and little WHY, people lose their purpose and start to work for a paycheck instead something more.

The janitor at your kids school may be sweeping floors (the WHAT) but he’s really contributing to the future success of the next generation (the WHY).

The volunteer who shows up each week to greet at your church (the WHAT) is actually helping people connect in a way that can have an eternal impact (the WHY).

Maybe it’s you. That ___ that you do every day (the WHAT) might seem insignificant but it’s really so much more, you just have to rediscover what it is (the WHY).


It’s easy to see and connect the dots but are we helping those who are lost in the WHAT see the WHY? Are we reflecting on the WHY ourselves?

Are we reminding others that they matter, that what they are doing makes a difference and that while their WHAT might seem mundane it is BIG and making an impact in ways they might not even know (the WHY)?

The WHY matters. When we keep the WHY in front of people, they’ll chase after it and better embrace the WHAT… not because the have to but because they want to. The WHY calls them to something more.

How will you help others keep the WHY before the WHAT?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • All good my friend. The world needs dreamers and doers. It's a beautiful match. 🙂