By Lou Hayes, Jr of The Virtus Group.

When you ask a question that begins with Why, expect the reasoning, rationale, logic, intent, or purpose behind something.

When you ask one that begins with How, expect the methods, options, plans, procedures, or techniques.

We standardize the How, without coming to agreement on the Why. Or if we share the Why, we argue needlessly about the How.

My SWAT teammates gave me the nickname Tactical Philosopher when jesting me on my relentless challenges of Why we did what we did and How we met those objectives. As someone who had self-described as a systems thinker, I embraced the moniker. I’ve always been a seeker of the relationships, priorities, harmony, correlations, and causes-and-effects between variables.

Leaders share a vision of the Why. Managers employ effective coordination of the How in search of reaching that vision. Both are vital to progress, growth, and success.
The Why will always be more critical. Adaptive, resilient, persevering people may need to make adjustments to and shifts in the How. But, they are grounded in the Why; it’s what drives them forward.

The next time you find yourself in disagreement, use questions that begin with Why and How to find your common ground.  You might find out that the debate needs to be had at a much more of a foundational level.

And don’t stop there; when you find yourself in agreement, ask the same questions to make sure you’re doing what’s right for you and your organization. There’s really no sense in sharing the How if your team is doing something for the wrong reasons.

These How and Why inquiries are not meant to be comfortable. They poke and prod at conventional “truths” and traditions.  If you’re doing something because you’ve always done it that way, make sure it’s still what’s best for you.  Or if you’re moving through unchartered territory, be open to a list of options and alternatives on how to reach your destination.

How can you benefit from asking these questions?

Or better yet…Why?

Following Lou on Twitter or email him at lou@virtusleadership.com


Mark St.Hilaire
01/18/2017 6:40am

I was a pain in the ass for always inquiring "why?" we did things. 1. It helped my cognitive thinking how to do the task properly. As I progressed, then 2. How we can make the task safer, efficient and more fun.
Congratulations Lou and thanks for this article.

01/21/2017 8:35pm

Thanks Mark. Have you ever heard of The Five Whys? Once a Why question is answered, ask Why again...and again...You might eventually get to a point where you find yourself answering, "You know...I'm not sure!" It makes you seek research, science, and data.


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