Understanding Your Leadership “Why”

Simon Sinek’s book “Start With Why” makes a simple but profound statement about leadership: “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” We are magnetically drawn to leaders who know what they believe, can communicate their vision, and inspire us to join them.

When I coach physician leaders, I often begin with “why” questions to help them gain clarity. I ask them, “What are you trying to accomplish as a leader, and more importantly, why?”

As clinicians, physicians are clinical experts trained to test, assess, diagnose, and make recommendations. But when you move into a leadership role, discovering and committing to your “why” becomes as important as your clinical expertise. It is the basis for how you will succeed in influencing and inspiring your peers, administration, nursing staff, and other stakeholders in the organization.

Why did you choose to be in a leadership role? Typical responses might be:

  • Because I was asked, or
  • It was the next step for me professionally, or
  • It provided additional compensation, or
  • There was no one else to do it.

But a successful leader will need to move beyond this and consider:

  • What you want to accomplish as a leader.
  • What is your vision for your team, service, program, or department.
  • How do you see the vision fulfilled.
  • What barriers or roadblocks do you foresee.
  • How will you manage these obstacles.

The first step is to articulate a clear, inspiring vision flexible enough to adjust when needed and will hold up regardless of difficulties and distractions. The vision could be market expansion, quality or access improvements, to be the best in the region, growth in clinical depth and breadth, and more. With that clarity of vision, there is now an intentionality to your leadership – a “north star” to guide decision-making and communications. Not everyone will buy in immediately, but a true leader embraces the challenge of working with all team members — including the risk-averse, change resistors, and naysayers. The effective leader listens with empathy and is willing to stand in someone else’s shoes to understand their viewpoint. Then through ongoing discussion, finds the “sweet spot” where colleagues and staff can embrace the vision.

Allison McCarthy Having clarity on your “why” can significantly impact your leadership success. If you need a partner to help you identify your “why” — whether as a physician or administrative leader — let’s start the conversation with a complimentary coaching session. You can reach me at amccarthy@barlowmccarthy.com.