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Leadership Is Like Engineering: You Need to Start with Why

To address user challenges, they must first be understood. These principles of why, what and how also apply to management, especially in turbulent times

By | | www.entrepreneur.com

In times of uncertainty, it is crucial for leaders to rally around the why behind their mission. There is a tendency to overlook the why when decisive action is needed, but it is essential to steering the course of the business. The why illuminates what needs to be done and how it can be accomplished. The why gives the whole team a sense of purpose. As Friedrich Nietzsche is quoted as saying, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

Over the past decade, my perspective on leadership has been guided by one simple mantra: Start with why, inspired by the book of the same title by Simon Sinek. In my time as an engineer, starting with why was fundamental to tackling every new product or feature. Starting with why meant understanding the pain points of the user and defining the success criteria for addressing the pain points. From there, we could specify the functionality needed (the what) and set a plan for developing the product (the how). As I became a leader, I found that these same principles apply to management — always, but especially in turbulent times.

When my company, like so many others, confronted the impact of a global pandemic, we were forced to reevaluate our criteria for success, short-term and long-term. We regained clarity that our purpose is to empower data engineers in building smart data pipelines to solve the biggest analytics problems of our generation. This clarity of purpose, our why, caused us to retool the what across the company, from our go-to-market strategy, to our product roadmap, to our investment model. This is enabling us to weather the storm.

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