Standing before the rostrum addressing the crowd, many were surprised that this brash young party leader had risen to the highest office in the land. He had very little political experience, very little money, he hadn’t even been accepted into college, but he possessed something that the nation he loved desperately needed… Hope.
With disarming passion and sincerity he spoke to his countrymen. It was a time for unity he said, but many politicians have said similar things on the day of their inauguration. He called for personal sacrifice – that too had become a common refrain. What set this man apart from the leaders who came before him? He started with why.
Many politicians say they want economic prosperity, many preach the safety and security that a strong military provides, many leaders dream of a return to strong families and hard work. But to this young man, all these goals were merely means to an end, stepping stones toward his one great dream and all-consuming passion, gaining for the Aryan race its rightful place at the top of the world order. The man, of course, was Adolf Hitler.
In the early 70s Walgreens was just an average drug store chain. They also owned 500 restaurants and a handful of various commercial enterprises. But Cork Walgreen had an insight, what his company was really good at was running highly convenient community drugstores. He announced to the company that within 3 years they would shut down all their restaurants and focus solely on drug stores.
Eckerd’s was a very similar company in the 70s, and they had a very well planned strategy as well – grow, grow, grow. But they didn’t have a clearly defined why. As a result, Walgreens is one of the most successful companies in America, Eckerd’s is almost non-existent.
In his book, Start With Why, Simon Sinek lays out one of the most counterintuitive and powerful principles in all of human life. ‘The individuals, families, companies, organizations and countries that have the most influence and power, are the ones that have a clearly defined purpose that drives everything they do.’
Human beings are complex creatures with intricate motivations and drives, Human designed systems such as businesses, ministries and family units are even more so. Without a clearly defined “why” it is impossible to accomplish great things, simply because the distractions are too difficult to overcome. Once this idea is internalized it shows up in nearly every area of life.
As the story of Hitler so powerfully illustrates, ‘whys’ are not magic, they are powerful, but not magic. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins found that great companies almost always have a strong why behind their brand. Walgreens operates convenient drugstores, Toms provides shoes to people in poverty, Apple ‘thinks different.’ Just as powerfully, however, Philip Morris makes products that are unhealthy and make you feel good and ISIS wants to destroy the Jewish state.
One valuable takeaway from this principle is to always pay attention to people’s why. Dave Ramsey, financial coach, author and radio personality, has preached for years to always work with small, local banks and credit unions. Large banks have no soul, he says and no moral compass. But when Fifth Third Bank approached Ramsey Solutions and offered to sponsor dozens of schools with Dave’s high school financial curriculum it was hard to turn down. They weren’t a mega bank after all, they were just a big bank, and apparently a good one! They wanted to help teach high-school kids to stay out of debt and follow a wise budget.
Ramsey solutions entered into a partnership with Fifth Third. It did not end well. After a couple of years, Fifth Third executives made the decision to write their own curriculum, one that emphasized borrowing money as a way to get ahead financially, and sell it to the schools that were using Ramsey’s products. They decided to steal Dave’s customers!
On his radio program, Dave publicly chastised himself for the decision to work with the bank. “It was so stupid!” he said, “I have preached for years to stay away from big banks, and I didn’t follow my own advice.” Put another way, he forgot his why. And that is okay, everyone forgets their why on occasion. Because Mr. Ramsey has a very strong why, however, he saw the mistake for what it was. Most people would have been upset with ‘those crooks over at Fifth Third,’ and hoped that Bank of America would be more honest, Dave realized that the problem wasn’t that Fifth Third was a worse bank than most, it was that the partnership never made sense in the first place. They didn’t share Dave’s why. They wanted people to borrow money, Dave hates debt. No amount of good PR was going to fix this misalignment. Dave ignored Fifth Third’s why.
Initially, European leaders were optimistic about Hitler’s rise to power. Germany was prospering again, happy countries don’t start wars… right? Sure, he had some fringe views on race, but what did that matter? It mattered because the Nazi why was the ascendance of the Arian Race, which meant territorial conquest, which meant cultural domination, which meant extermination of millions. They ignored Hitler’s why.
When Julius Caesar was captured by Barbary pirates and held for ransom he warned them that a consul could not let such a slight go unpunished. They would laugh when he told them “I will return and crucify every last one of you.” They didn’t laugh when he made good on his promise.
A few months after my daughter was born my wife came into the room and said, “I don’t want to be a good parent… I want to be a godly parent.” My daughter is now 2, and it is much too early to see the end results of this parenting why, or if we will even live it out perfectly (we won’t). What I am confident of, however, is that my wife and I have a much better chance of making a lasting impact on the lives of our children if we strive to be Godly parents than if we strive to be good parents. The reasons for my confidence, however, are surprising. Being a Godly parent isn’t a better goal because it is loftier or more spiritual, it is better because it gives a why.
If we are trying to decide at what age a good parent would let their daughter date (thirty two in case you were wondering) we might look at what other parents are doing, or read the opinion of an expert. If we ask at what age a godly parent would let their daughter date we begin to ask better questions, ‘How can I prepare my daughter for healthy romance?’ ‘How can I pray for my daughter’s future?”
I think that being a godly parent is an excellent parenting why, but it is by no means the only one. Suppose that my wife and I decided we wanted to be teaching parents, that is a ‘why’ as well. We might decide to begin teaching our daughter early about healthy relationships, helping her to develop emotional maturity and a healthy sense of self-worth. Strong whys drive better decision making and help us spot mistakes more quickly, because they help us ask the right questions, and who knows? They might just change your life.