The 2 Questions A Leader Should Answer And The 1 A Leader Must

If you want to lead people – donors, team members, others at your institution – here are the 2 questions you should be able to answer:

  1. What are we doing?
  2. How are we going to do it?

Most people can answer #1 – they know what they are doing.  If you say, “what is your job?”  Most will give answer by stating the tasks they perform on a daily basis.  Or they will give an answer that emphasizes their role, “I raise money for the College of Architecture.”

Some people can answer #2 – they can articulate how the work is to get accomplished.  “We raise money by meeting with donors and engaging them.”

But, while most people focus on the “what?” and the “how?” questions, the most important for a leader to answer is the simple question of “why?”  “Why do we believe this is important?”  “Why are we raising this money?”  “To what end?”  And very few can answer the “why?” question well.  It’s what separates authentic, effective leaders from managers.

The answer to the “why?” question is what most excites donors to invest their financial capital with you and most inspires team members to give of their time, talents, and energies.

Donors do not give because your institution wants or even needs a new building or a larger endowment (the “what are we doing?” question).  However, because the “what?” question is easy to answer, whole case statements are written to answer it in tremendous detail.   We show donors blueprints, architectural drawings, and every sort of fact and figure about “what” we are raising money for.  These are the easy questions to answer.

But donors and others get inspired and decide to invest their time, talent, and treasure with you because of the answer to the “why” question.  Why is that building important?  Why are we attempting to grow the endowment?  What difference will it all make?

The “why” question speaks to our values.  It says to our donors and team members, “This is what our institution believes.  If you believe it too, join with us.”

Every great movement in human history occurred because leaders answered the “why” question.  Martin Luther King.  Ghandi.  Nelson Mandella.  The Founding Fathers of the U.S. Gloria Steinem.  Golda Meir.  Winston Churchill.  Mother Teresa.  Think about each of these leaders.  Each personality was different.  Men, women, rich, poor, older, younger.  Some were great orators, some not.  Some were big personalities, some not.  They are different at every turn.

And yet they inspired people to follow them, to invest in them, to join with them.  They helped shape our world.  And all because they answered the “why” question.  They expressed what they believed and others who believed similarly joined them.

Growing in your capacity to lead may not mean you need more education, training, or experience.  To grow in your effectiveness as a leader, you may simply need to be able to effectively answer the question of “why?”

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