08/30/2013 07:29 pm ET Updated Oct 30, 2013

Inspired Leadership -- an Honest WHY

People love to send me the link to Simon Sinek's recent TED talk, discussing how great leaders inspire action. Simon says, "Start with WHY," so people do (I blame that on his first name).

I am a fervent believer in Sinek's book and TED talk, especially his discussion about how we inspire our tribe - those customers, constituents, and potential collaborators who believe what we believe. He recommends that we always begin by communicating our WHY (his all-caps emphasis, not mine).

To align with the topic, I'll begin with my WHY. This post is an action I'm taking to support my vision: global collaboration for a sustainable future. The HOW is by engaging in the conversation of inspired leadership with Sinek and others in our field. WHAT this conversation produces is leaders who reliably inspire passionate followings as we declare a compelling vision, in my case a sustainable, global future.

The extension of Sinek's "start with WHY" approach that I offer is simple: an honest WHY.

For 10+ years I was a therapist specializing in clients dealing with self-sabotage and procrastination. My assessment, rooted in those thousands of conversations with them, is that many entrepreneurs and would-be leaders lack the awareness of their true WHY.

The reason their WHY falls short of generating the next Apple or MLK or Wright Bros is because they're not honest about being self-serving. Most of them have a pretty, well-worded WHY when asked (like many corporate mission statements out there) but it's not their honest, gut-level reason for doing what they do, so it lands flat.

Here's a list of some of the insidious, self-serving WHY's that often operate at that gut-level and sabotage a leader's ability to inspire:

  • Money - "I want world peace . . . and the ability to pay my mortgage." Classic. Common. And we can smell it a mile away, so we don't trust your commitment to something greater than yourself.
  • Approval - "I bring healthy food to disadvantaged inner city youth . . . because my dad grew up in a neighborhood like that, and he'll finally be proud of me." Noble. And insecure. Uninspiring.
  • Love - "If s/he and I partner on this non-profit, we can fall in love while eating take-out Chinese late one night . . . just like in the movies." Not kidding. I've heard this one.
  • The Anti-WHY - "We're gonna bring down The Man! Corporations suck!" The Anti-WHY rails against what you don't want, instead of rallying for what you do want. You're hurt, not visionary.
  • Fame / Power - "My starring film roles will inspire teenagers to be self-expressive individuals!" Until they offer you 2.4M to play a total prick. You're in it for you, just like those teens.

A lot of good gets done by people who are operating with a pretty vision as the icing on their corporate cake (and deep insecurity as their flour). The difference between a non-profit or company founded on a self-serving vision and one that truly inspires across the span of decades is the honest WHY that is greater than you, the leader.

For a Why to generate a following, it must awaken the mantra of the Warrior archetype which says, "I am a tenacious commitment to that which is greater than me." For the cause! For the family! For a sustainable global future! For the right to a free press!

And it's gotta be real.

Because when it's real and honest - and we can feel it - then these "greater than me" WHY's fire up a universal mojo in us, and our hearts are stirred, and collaborators with common passions align with us, and we can shift the course of the world.

Do you have the self-trust to be honest with yourself right now? It takes guts and awareness to ask the question, "WHY do I want to inspire and lead?" and answer authentically.

If your answer lights you up with a compelling vision, then I invite you to engage in our conversation here on this post for the sake of that WHY. If your honest vision really ended up only serving you, then at least you know why you don't have a ton of followers going in the direction you're leading. Keep going . . . inspiration will find you down the road.