Start With How

In the Chief of Staff role, particularly because it is often ambiguous and fluid, it’s so easy to focus on the what. I’m guilty of it. I like things to be categorized, labeled, and neatly organized into well-defined boxes. I’m always asking myself, “What to I need to get done today?” “What is my role?”, “What is the problem here?”, “What’s next?” I’m using these questions to give myself a false sense of control. If I can just figure out what to do or what I want, then everything will fall into place, right? Nope.

I had a major aha the other day: Stop focusing on the what and start focusing on the how.

Now, Simon Sinek, would argue that starting with why is the way to go. And I’m not going to argue with him – the man is brilliant! It is incredibly important to understand why you are here on earth and why you are choosing the people, projects, business, or career you do. However, finding your personal why is hard and can sometimes take a lifetime of trial and error to discover – particularly when you’re more of a generalist than passionate about just one thing. This is why I think so many people focus on the what. It’s concrete, it’s tangible, it’s real.

How about we focus on the how? I think it can be a powerful bridge between the what and why. As Chief of Staff and Force Multiplier, I realized that defining the what was an almost impossible goal. The what changes constantly. The what is often out of my control. But the how? The how is up to me.

How do I want to show up each day as a friend, a wife, an employee? How do I want to lead? How do I want to serve the organization and the community? How do I want to support my principal’s why?

How is a question concerning the way or manner in which something is done or achieved. When I focus on the how (the way or manner in which I do something) the what will take care of itself. Dare I say, the what is even irrelevant? Focusing on the how means focusing on who I want to be and how I want to exist in the world.

For example, it’s not necessarily about what job I’m doing, but how I’m doing the job. If I want to exist in the world as an influential leader, then I need to approach each conversation with curiosity and understanding, ask probing questions, bring conflicts to light, encourage individuals to share different perspectives, and build consensus and commitment. This could be through leadership meetings, division-wide calls, one-on-one meeting, group trainings, composing memos, or a slew of other “whats.” But that is the trouble we, Force Multipliers, often get into. We are so focused on the what, getting the next project completed, or the next metric measured, that we forget how we want to be showing up each day.

In our growing businesses, I am often juggling multiple competing priorities and have a variety of tasks land on my desk each week. As Chief of Stuff, I mean Chief of Staff, I often work on special projects or new initiatives that don’t have a specific home in the organization (yet). Hiring a COO? Selling an exclusive coaching program? Preparing talking points for a new podcast? Creating a new benefits package? Solving organizational development challenges? Yup, I’ve got it all covered. Because of this, it’s incredibly hard to define what I do. I can’t help but wonder, perhaps I should focus less on defining what I do and more on sharing how I do it.

How do you get your job done? With patience and persistence? Or perhaps with intensity and creativity? How are you leading your principal and your team? With direct conversations and tough love or questions and self-discovery? Here are a few examples of starting with how:

HOW – Show up with an open mind, leading with care and candor, asking probing questions, being vulnerable, and providing constructive feedback.
WHAT – Conducting quarterly reviews, providing feedback to a colleague, coaching a client, doing a keynote presentation.

HOW – Remain neutral and curious, open to being wrong, provide sound data and advice, with a commitment to creating a plan of action.
WHAT – Providing negative feedback to principal on recent speech, status meeting with a vendor, refining a timeline on a new project.

HOW – Creatively find solutions for the challenges of small business owners, while traveling and creating your own schedule.
WHAT – Start your own consulting business, working remotely for a coaching company, becoming an influencer or blogger.

As you can see, with your how (your way of being) clearly established, the what can vary! Unsure of how to navigate your Force Multiplier role, how to grow in your career, or what goal to tackle next? Start with how and work backwards from there. Once you discover how you want to be each day, the what will show up, and ultimately you will uncover your why, which will be the rocket fuel for your success.

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