The Penultimate Question

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I have three adult children. They didn’t arrive that way. Although it would have been more convenient. There were actually a few years of parenting between their arrival and today.

When they were little, there was perhaps one question that stood out above all others. You parents already know what it is.

W H Y ?

Rarely was this question posed only once. Normally, the first why was quickly followed by a second, then a third… and so on. I don’t remember our record. That’s probably best.

No problem on the first few. Piece of cake, in fact. As benevolent and wise parents it behooves us to be patient with our offspring and try to logically and intelligently answer their queries.

Inevitably, however, the penultimate “why?” would be let loose – the last one before breaking the proverbial camel’s back. Once that line was breached, it was time to engage the parent’s last line of defense – “Because I said so!!!”

Well – it turns out the kids were actually a lot wiser than I gave them credit for.

“Why,” in fact, is quite possibly the most important question a leader needs to ask.

Our why is our North Star. Knowing why we do what we do and keeping it consistently in view anchors us with a permanent reference point.

This reference point, like the force of gravity, then helps pull us through the tough times to the other side.

We’re emerging from a tidal wave of change. And people are still feeling pretty beat up.

As leaders, we are directly responsible for navigating through this, both personally and for our teams and organizations.

This navigation – just like pushing through a rough sea – can bring with it resistance, lack of acceptance, conflict, and a seemingly endless spate of organizational challenges hindering progress.

For leaders, this can cause fatigue, discouragement and stress. If we forget our why these negative effects are magnified and can become deleterious to both our physical and mental well being.

Let’s nip this in the bud.

Reflect this week on why you do what you do. What fuels your passion? What makes your heart glad? Why did you choose the leadership path you are on? What is your North Star, the highest expression or outcome of your influence as a leader?

Then, like Polaris, let it shine brightly at all times, both for you and those you lead. Let it remind you of the significance of your life and your life’s work.

As Mallory (“M”) toasted James Bond after his untimely death in “No Time to Die,” he quoted Jack London:

“The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”

Thanks kids.

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