Why you must tell the world what you’re for
Posted on by Cindy Atlee
This is the second blog post in my three-part series on the who/why/what of branding, professional/leadership development and team/culture building.
Last month, I had the amazing privilege of working with 1,500 educator-leaders at the National Education Association’s annual leadership summit. These are educators who do even more than serve students in their classrooms and their communities—as if that wasn’t enough! Every one of them has also taken on a local, state and/or national role as an activist and mobilizer for students and their inalienable rights to a great public education. They’re as dedicated a group as I’ve ever seen.
The work with NEA was designed to help attendees get in touch with a deeply authentic sense of self, and to claim a voice that leveraged what was most special, unique and different about each of them. It was the first time I’d ever tried such a large-group story typing process. And yes, it was daunting to think about how we could shape an experience that would engage 1,500 people.
I shouldn’t have worried. This was exactly the right group for the work, and I think that’s because they have a fierce draw to the Why of their storyline—there’s a quest, a purpose, a reason for being that drives them. We just needed to help them understand the nature of their Who (a strong individualized sense of best self) and how it aligned with their Why (the fuel that energizes and motivates them) so that a personal narrative could start taking recognizable shape. Their conviction and passion took over from there.
Advocacy is at the Heart of Your Why
You couldn’t find better folks than the ones who are part of the NEA. There’s no question that their organization’s very heart beats to the drum of advocacy. I had a little epiphany as I worked with them, too, and this is it: We all need to be advocates. I don’t think there are any exceptions.
- Any organization that wants to build an inspired workforce, fiercely loyal customer base or highly engaged stakeholder group of any kind needs to start thinking of themselves as advocates for something
- So does any leader who wants to build a productive, committed team
- So does any professional who wants to make a meaningful, successful, enduring contribution with their work
Advocacy is at the very heart of purpose. It articulates what you’re for (and isn’t that a relief in a world where we seem to spend all of our time talking about what we’re against?). It motivates you to keep on going despite the challenges. It builds common ground. It defines your quest and shapes a storyline that draws other people in. And here’s the great news: every one of us can be a powerful advocate, and you don’t have to be saving the world to show up that way. You just need to answer one powerful question:
- What are you deeply, meaningfully, intensely, vociferously, no-holds-barred for in the world?
The answer could be laughter or self expression or tolerance or chocolate (okay, the right kind of chocolate actually can save the world, can’t it)?
Story type can help you answer that question, because knowing who you are offers profound clues about your passion and conviction—and those are the key shapers of advocacy, purpose and Why. It’s the Jester who lives for laughter and joy; the Creator who’s compelled to stand up for everyone’s right to tell their own story; the Everyperson who holds diversity most dearly and fiercely. Once you’re clear on Who you are as the protagonist of an individual or collective story, an inevitable narrative arc begins to develop that takes you directly to insights about your quest, your purpose, your advocacy and your Why. So if you want a great brand, team, culture or leadership identity, remember the following:
- Why provides the motivating, energizing fuel that can inspire you or anyone inside your organization to get out of bed in the morning and keep moving throughout the day. A purposeless career, team or organizational life often ends up feeling devoid of meaning or a sense of aliveness. A purposeful career, team or organizational life provides motivational drivers that keep people committed and contributory.
- Why helps you inspire and involve others as well. Sharing a powerful purpose actually invite others to define their own best selves or higher callings—and can help them align with something aspirational about you or your organization that forges loyalty and builds deeper engagement.
- Why helps shape a voice or brand that others relate to on a visceral, emotional level. That’s where relationships are forged and sustained, and where lasting value is created and built.
So once you’ve established your Who—and cast yourself in a meaningful, enduring role that captures your best self—move on to your Why. Ask yourself what your protagonist most wants to advocate for and take in that energy and motivation. Then, get moving on your quest!
In my next post, I’ll talk about the happy ending to your story—the promise you’re willing to make, and the outcome you’re committed to delivering for others.