1. Meaning is understanding not WHAT you’re doing but WHY you’re doing it.
2. Motivation is more powerful when it comes from the inside (why you care, what you are passionate about, why this matters) than from the outside (rewards, recognition, money).
We’re on the fourth element of building a healthy high-performance team. We’ve arrived at meaning.
What is meaning? It’s not what you’re doing but why you’re doing it: not what your job is, for example, but what drives you. A teacher might ask herself, why do I work with young people?
Of course, a healthy high-performance team needs to understand the “what” of its work. It’s the task, problem or issue. But the why is much more powerful. What is the significance? How does it fit into the bigger picture? Why does it matter at all?
And below those big questions, what is driving each member of the team? It’s an important question, because one thing we have learned about motivation is that when it comes from the outside (rewards), it is far less powerful and more likely to die off, than when it comes from the inside (a deep desire to do one’s best, to advance a cause, etc.).
Here’s a story to illustrate how powerful meaning and “why” can be.
When we think of Michael Phelps, the first thing that comes to mind is that he has won more Olympic Medals than any other athlete in history. What many people don’t think of is that despite, or perhaps as a side effect, of all of his money, fame, and success, Michael went through what many of us experience in our careers and lives: a dark period.
In 2014, halfway between Olympic Games, Michael was deeply depressed and really struggling in every area of his life. At the low point, he was photographed smoking weed out of a bong and was twice charged with driving under the influence, including once in a school zone. He also went through a series of bad breakups that were very public.
At the lowest point, he called his coach, explained that he was having thoughts about suicide, and said, “I've had it. I can't take this anymore.” The coach helped Michael get into rehab.
While in rehab, Michael wasn’t one of the most successful athletes in history. He was just a guy working the steps. One of them was making calls to friends and family to make amends, reconnect with people, talk through what happened, work it through – for yourself and for them.
When he was on a call with his best friend, the conversation didn’t unfold as Phelps had expected. The friend challenged him by asking a simple question that ended up changing the course of Michael's life: “Is that the best that you can do?” Reflecting on the question, Michael realized that what had happened so far, though amazing by any external standard, wasn’t even close to all he was capable of and wanted to achieve. Stepping back, he realized that he had been focusing on the what – the medals – not the why – his passion for training, pushing limits, giving his best, being a guy his team and his country could count on.
Phelps left rehab soon after and returned to his training with a new focus on enjoying and embracing the process. He changed his diet. He committed to physical therapy. He added yoga, stretching, massage, and functional training to his swimming. He repaired a number of relationships. And, maybe most important of all, he stopped reading things like ESPN magazine and started reading biographies of people like Mahatma Ghandi and Steve Jobs – role models of meaning and purpose.
Fast forward to 2016 and the Rio Olympics, and Phelps is a picture of happiness. During all of the media interviews he gave, his themes were being there to try his hardest, to not end up with regret, and to know that he had left it all out there in the lanes.
By pivoting his thinking from outcomes to process, he reenergized his life and found his purpose again. He lived the life he loved.
That’s the power of why. And it lies at the heart of healthy high-performance teams. A great team is driven by something deeper than praise or trophies: it is fueled by meaning. External rewards are fine, but they are not the meaning of our lives and they will not sustain us in our pursuit of excellence in any long-term way.
Today's 1% Gain: Know Your Why
GOOGLE’S PROJECT ARISTOTLE REVEALED THAT HIGH-PERFORMING TEAMS WERE CLEAR ABOUT THE MEANING OF THEIR PROJECTS AND HAD BEEN CONSTRUCTED TO ACCOMPLISH VERY SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES OR CREATE NEW OPPORTUNITIES.
JUST THINK ABOUT THE TEAM THAT CREATED GOOGLE VOICE – A PIECE OF FREE SOFTWARE THAT ALLOWS YOU TO TALK, FOR FREE, TO ANYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD. THAT PROJECT WAS NOT ABOUT CREATING SOFTWARE, IT WAS ABOUT CONNECTING PEOPLE.
SO WHY ARE YOU DOING WHAT YOU’RE DOING? WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF YOUR TEAM? WHY ARE YOU WORKING ON A PROJECT? WHAT ARE YOU TRAINING FOR? WHY HAVE YOU COME TOGETHER?
KNOWING YOUR WHY IS ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL TO ENSURING THAT YOU REACH YOUR POTENTIAL.