Do you remember when you were a kid…or perhaps thinking of your kids…the incessant refrain of, “but why?” When asked to do something, children rarely take for granted the reason for that request. And, yet, as adults, we’ve unlearned that important pause. Instead, we leap into action (how) to accomplish the “what” or, worse yet, we begin devising the “how” without really understanding the “what” or the “why.”

You probably looked at the title and thought, is that a typo? Why has she listed the term “what” twice. This is intentional. Sometimes, as we look at the why behind the original what, we discover that there may be different paths that will get us there. Let me share an example. A client came to me to figure out the best approach to getting promoted to the leadership team. This was his original “what.” As we discussed why this was important to him, it wasn’t about title or stature, it was about impact. And, in fact, as he unpacked the details of being on the leadership team (more travel, potential relocation, etc), he was less enamored with the idea of the promotion.

So, we explored why having greater impact was important to him using the 5 Why framework, and we got clear about what that actually meant to him. In other words, a year from now, what would it look like if he’d had the impact he’d hoped to have?

We used his new “what”…having greater impact…along with the clear, compelling vision of what that would look like a year from now, to begin developing the “how.” This plan looked at key stakeholders he needed to build or strengthen relationships with; a communication plan that saw him sharing his plan and progress more broadly across the organization; as well as the conversation he needed to have with his supervisor to ensure that they were aligned. And, with that, he was able to let go of the struggle of thinking he needed to be promoted (and not really wanting the promotion) in order to accomplish his goals.

Before you leap into action on your “what” or “how,” take a moment to explore and understand your “why.” This simple step will help you avoid some of the detours along the journey toward your goals.