Finding out your ‘Why’

Part 2 of a 3-part article, stay tuned for part-1 and part-3.

Estimated Reading Time:  4.0 minutes

Word Count: 774

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This article is the second in a series of three that each contain short exercises to help you reflect on your leadership journey to date, pinning down what motivates you and how to increase your impact.

Ask yourself, why did you become a leader? I’m willing to guess that it was something around ‘making a difference’ or implementing your own vision. That’s certainly what our research into developing school leaders at LKMco has found, with 9 out of the 10 heads we asked giving one of those two answers. Reflecting on your ‘why’ not only gives you clarity of purpose in your vision, it also inspires those around you too.

Exercise 1: Increasing your effectiveness by articulating your ‘why’

Time: 10 minutes (plus 15 minutes watching time)

  1. 1. Write down five things that as a leader you ask other people to do. These can be small things like, “I need Gustave in year 11 to attend intervention every Monday after school” through to the bigger stuff like, “I need to develop a culture of trust in my SLT”. Ideally, there will be a bit of both.


  1. 2. Now stop. Make yourself a cup of tea and watch this video of Simon Sinek on what he calls Golden Circles. Get some big paper and map out your why, how and what using the golden circles model. Be honest with yourself – are you writing down your ‘why’ as simply what your leadership team or, if you’re a head, your school governors expect, or are you really getting to the heart of why you get up and go to work in the morning?


  1. 3. Now, go back to your list of asks. Pick one and think about how you can frame what you are asking others to do starting with your ‘why’. For example, a request that may previously have sounded like this:

“Gustave, you need to go to intervention on Monday. You’ll be sitting with Miss Klein and going through some additional maths work. We’re getting you to do this because you need some extra support to get your GCSEs and having those gives you choices, something that we care about.”

Instead becomes this:

“Gustave, we care about you. We want you to have choices after school so we’re going to do everything we can to support you to get your GCSEs. That means you’re going to have some extra support from Miss Klein after school every Monday. I really need you to go to that intervention so you can succeed.”

How does the ask change when you start with your why? I’m pretty sure I’d be more motivated if someone told me that they cared about me and then explained what they wanted me to do. This is also a good way of starting conversations with parents; what they often really want to hear is that you give a damn about their kids. Once they get that message, the chances are that they’ll follow you into battle, even if that battle is with their recalcitrant teenage son.

Some asks might be trickier to measure, especially ones that involve a long-term shift; getting people to be more open on SLT doesn’t exactly happen overnight, for example. Still, there’s something to be said for this clarity of vision and for communicating it at every possible opportunity. Sharing your ‘why’ amongst the team helps people appreciate what common ground there may be, which in turn builds trust and a sense of shared purpose.

My final tips on getting people on board and influencing people draw on Caroline Webb’s How to Have a Good Day:

  • Bring the benefits to life: explain to people what the end goal is that you are working towards to help them visualise what can be gained in the long term
  • Use social proof: engage the key influencers and get them on board first, whether that be the cool kids in year 11 or the vocal naysayer in the maths department. Approach them first and get their buy in before you approach others.
  • Get them involved: Ask for people’s opinion in how you can achieve your end goal so that they contribute in some way. Let them work out the steps to get there so that they can take ownership of the task.


So, in this and the previous article, we’ve covered what motivates you and how you can use that to influence and get buy in from those around you. In the next and final article, I get you to think about the people you surround yourself with and how they can help you, as you in turn help them.

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