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How to Start with Why

by Mike Smith • December 12, 2019

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Last month I wrote an article on the importance of coming up with the “why” for your homeschool organization. It was inspired by Simon Sinek’s best-selling book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action—an excellent book that I think everyone should read. The idea behind “starting with why” is that any company or organization needs an identity that can be clearly communicated and that elicits an emotional response.

Sinek’s position, based on experience and research, is that customers and constituents will be more motivated to use our services or buy our products if they share or admire our beliefs—the why behind what we do.

Sinek uses the example of Southwest Airlines, the most consistently profitable airline in the United States. Southwest’s core value, their why, is freedom. Confused? When Southwest Airlines comes to mind, you might think of low airfares, no baggage fees, unassigned seating, or convenience in changing flights. But the founders of Southwest believed in freedom: freedom for everyone to fly around the country affordably, and even to choose their seats. (I don’t fly Southwest but I love freedom. Maybe I need to reassess.)

Let’s apply this to homeschool organizations. I know I’m overlooking some here, but the general types that we have are statewide organizations, local support groups, co-ops, curriculum providers, service providers of various kinds, homeschool and private school product providers, conference providers, and speakers (a hybrid of equipping and encouraging with some personal books and other products thrown in).

My 38 years in the homeschool community tells me that, despite our differences in structure, homeschool organizations all have several things in common. We believe homeschooling provides a superior education for kids. More than that, we believe homeschooling makes it possible to raise kids in an especially meaningful family context. And for those of us who are Christians, we see homeschooling as an ideal way to fulfill the biblical command to bring our children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

The point is, those core beliefs—the things that feel personal to us—those are the whys of our organizations.

And guess what, our constituents and customers have similar beliefs. That connection over core values is what builds loyalty.

Keep the main thing the main thing

The why comes from the gut (or the heart), not the brain. A good way to discern it is to ask ourselves and the other leaders of our group why we believe our organization should exist. We don’t start with the service or product we’re offering or how to offer it. Rather, we identify the standout belief that inspired us to launch or join the organization.

Knowing and communicating our why doesn’t just build constituent loyalty; it goes a step further to facilitate well-run organizations. It keeps our groups on the rails. By knowing our purpose, we won’t do activities or promote products that take us down rabbit trails. Another way of saying this is, “Keep the main thing the main thing.”

Once we have the why, the what and the how follow. For Southwest Airlines, the what is the transportation of customers from point A to point B. The how is everything it takes to make that happen.

Most of the effort that makes an organization successful happens in the how and the what. However, the difference between success and not-as-much success just might be in cementing why you want to exist in the first place.