Driving Change – Understanding Your Why!

In our training sessions at Braintrust, we often show a picture that illustrates a caterpillar going through the change to a butterfly. We will ask our participants to tell us what they are looking at. We will immediately have someone say, that is a picture of a caterpillar. Someone else will then say, it is a picture of a butterfly. Almost always, someone will then report it is a caterpillar changing to a butterfly. Then the magic word will come out – metamorphosis. I will then ask what happens when a caterpillar transforms through metamorphosis to a butterfly. Someone will respond that the butterfly “can’t go back” to the way they were before.

Have you ever had that moment when looking back on it now, you know it was a “moment” that had a significant directional impact on your life?  In 2015, I had spent 25 years in the pharmaceutical industry. At this stage of my career, I had one of those “moments” and made an unusual decision. The decision was to apply for a position within the Ph.D. program at Case Western Reserve University. You may be thinking, who in their right mind begins a Ph.D. program 25 years into their career. To be honest, I wasn’t sure. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t even explain to my wife why I wanted to begin the program. All I knew is what I was about to do, not why I was going to do it. Yes, you are correct. It is unusual to invest five years of time and money into a management Ph.D. programs if you can’t explain why. I guess sometimes in life; it is possible to know “what” you’re doing without having complete clarity on “why” we are doing it.  That usually doesn’t last long, does it?  What without “why” often isn’t very sustainable.  

 On August 24th, 2015, I was driving from Cincinnati to Cleveland to begin the program when I received a phone call from my brother. He asked me a question that would start to change the trajectory of my professional and personal journey. He asked a simple question, “why are you starting this journey?” After a brief conversation, I said the word transformation. The type of transformation where you don’t go back. A metamorphic change! The note that you see attached to this blog is the note that I wrote to myself at 6:00 AM on August 25, 2015 – “transformation – let the journey begin!” I have kept this note with me for the past five years.  I still didn’t have a complete picture of the end destination, but I knew that I wanted to do something that would have a lasting impact on others. Something that would make a difference. 

I have a question for you, “Why do you do what you do?” As a coach and professor, I have had the opportunity to spend hundreds of hours coaching and reading stories of why people do what they do. It is incredible how our “why” stories are connected to Sages that have impacted the beliefs that unfold the narratives that make us who we are. When you understand your why and the why of your team members, you begin a process that transforms your ability to both understand yourself and connect with each other on a much more meaningful level. Why then is it our default inclination is to ask people what they do rather than why they do it? The next time you sit down with someone for a cup of coffee, have a 1:1 feedback session with a colleague, make a phone call to a relative or go to a dinner party, I’d ask you to start the conversation with a question.  “Why do you do what you do”?  You will be shocked by the stories that unfold!

In my Ph.D. program, I have had the privilege of being mentored by Richard Boyatzis, Ph.D. In his recent book Helping People Change (Boyatzis/Smith/Van Oosten) that was just released by the Harvard Business Review Press, I was inspired by the definition of a coach – “facilitative or helping relationships with the purpose of achieving some type of change, learning, or new level of individual or organizational performance.” If you want to build strong relationships in business and in life, then take the time to understand the WHY of those people around you. It will begin a journey of transformation.

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