You Lose Your Way When You Lose Your Why

The idea for this blog post came from listening to a Michael Hyatt podcast. He has some helpful leadership material and hits the ball out of the park when it comes to influence, structure, people, and organization.

Photo courtesy of winnond |
Photo courtesy of winnond |

I was listening to one of his podcasts and he made a singular statement that arrested my attention. I do not remember the overall theme of the podcast, but he stated…

You lose your way when you lose your why.

At face value that is a very interesting statement and dig even deeper and it gets more intriguing. There is much packed into that one sentence.

I am in process of reading a newer work by Greg McKeown called Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. I plan to dedicate a blog post to a review of this engaging book once I complete it, but for now want to just tease you with a quote that I read early on.

We have lost our ability to filter what is important and what isn’t. Psychologists call this “decision fatigue”: the more choices we are forced to make, the more the quality of our decisions deteriorates.

Today, technology has lowered the barrier for others to share their opinion about what we should be focusing on. It is not just information overload; it is opinion overload.

want to be an authentic leader and desire it, despite all of the noise and clutter that comes with it. As McKeown said, we have opinion overload, and so we have a difficulty delineating between the trivial many and the essential few.

Right now I am experiencing some of these tensions.

I currently serve as an Executive Pastor at our church. And I love it. It fits the giftedness that God has been developing within me during my past few employment opportunities. And though I love being involved in first-thought discussions and looking at the trajectory of our church, part of my role is just listening.

Listening to other leaders within the church. Listening to members. Listening to onlookers. It is part of my role and I deem it important to consistently be having my “ear to the ground” of what needs are out there or what service opportunities are at our doorstep. I like knowing what our leaders and members are thinking.

As I like to tell people, though, I am one of these recovering people pleasers. And it causes me to hear opinions and information in an overload sort of way.

As I said earlier, part of my role is to be a listener – to understand first before I seek to be understood. And part of that raised listening is with the other elders in our church to whom I am accountable. Part of my role, and I deem it a serious one, is to flesh out and make tangible the vision of our church elders.

Of all the voices that I listen to, they need to be the ones I listen to most carefully.

The problem is that as a leader, if I am not careful, I begin to hear all the voices equally and forget the reason why we exist as a church. That is a dangerous spot for me. Because when I forget my why I begin to flounder in knowing my way. Hence the title of my post for today.

So what is the danger of losing my why and do I need to be concerned about it? Here are three dangers that come to my mind when we begin to lose our why:

Priority becomes priorities

When we lose our why, suddenly what is the top and only priority becomes a series of priorities; one focus turns into many and you can begin to lose your way. Many paths begin to look enticing and so either you begin to wander or fall into analysis paralysis.

We begin to adopt the trivial many versus the essential few

This is a phrase used by McKeown in his book. And I cannot think of a better way to articulate what I am trying to get across.

When we start to lose our why, things that are second tier (or lower) begin to work their way to a first tier level. As a leader, there has to be a filter on what we hear. Things like…

“You can’t change this!”

“That policy will never work!”

“If you alter this, you will lose a lot of people!”

“Have you really thought this through?!”

“Why does this change even need to happen?!”

Notice the exclamation points. They are there intentionally. Raised flag. Sound the alarm.

No don’t misinterpret this statement. I am not saying that these comments should not be considered or discussed. Not at all. Making people and their ideas important is essential in leadership. Great ideas come from the people around you.

But when you have contemplated other opinions and are ready to move, then move. And as you have the why firmly articulated in your own mind are you then able to filter through the trivial many to just the trivial few. If opinions are not put through the grid of the why, we are in danger of losing our way. And in my position, once the vision of the elders begins getting watered down in my own mind, a lot of mediocre blah-ness is going to rear its head in our church.

We lose our effectiveness.

You have a lot of activity without a lot of movement

When we begin to lose our why, we will give the appearance that there is much activity going on, but truthfully and in reality, there is not much movement. Think of the visual of a boxer who likes to dance around the ring with his gloves moving through the air but never lands a punch.

A couple of weeks ago when I was up in Ontario, Canada for my canoeing/backpacking trip, I learned a lesson about this.

Each of our canoes had 2-3 people on board. The person in the back acted as the rudder to ensure that the canoe was always heading to that focal point in the distance – and in a straight line. There were times when I was in the back and found ourselves moving around the lake a lot, but only because we were zigzagging to our destination. 

A lot of activity; not much movement.

In other words, arms were moving the paddles, we were all paddling, but we were going nowhere quickly.

When we begin to lose our why, we begin to associate our activity with our movement and the two may not be correlated. Just because I am busy does not mean I am helping get the mission and vision accomplished. What is essential? What drives the most important idea forward? And am I doing that?

It is necessary that we as leaders take inventory and make certain that the why is firmly planted and fixed in our minds. And the why can take on a number of different forms:

  • for me it is what the other elders have deemed critical and essential.
  • it could be what your up-line is telling you is most important to the success of the company.
  • it could be carefully listening to your spouse or a coworker and hearing not only what they are saying but also what they are not saying.
  • it could be reorienting yourself with the words of Jesus in the Gospels to rediscover what is most important to Him. After all, it is His story and His glory. Everything else is secondary. Especially my agenda.

As I stated last week, my trip to Canada was not only a time to get into the wilderness, which always does me good. It was also a time to evaluate my why, refocus on it, and get recalibrated so that I do not lose my way.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed right now, or feeling lost in your way, perhaps you too need to take some time to evaluate your why to ensure it is the right one. Because there is a lot of backtracking and wasted time and energy to have to get back on the right path.




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