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Why we do what we do; it can inspire us

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. William Baez
  • 6th Dental Squadron commander
Why we do what we do can inspire us. Getting to defining "why" has many leaders and industry consultants focusing on cultivating the "why" of an organization to improve performance and the company culture.

The theory is that we make decisions based on what we believe about a company and product, not just what it is. Think of BMW and their "Ultimate driving experience" campaign. You wouldn't feel compelled to try or buy their cars if their ad was "we make great cars," but if you believe that what you want is the "Ultimate driving experience" then BMW has a better chance at gaining you as a loyal customer. They are not necessarily trying to convert as much as attract like-minded drivers to their brand and products.

This is according to Simon Sinek, who gave an intriguing talk, "How great leaders inspire action," that has me thinking about this idea and how to inspire others. He illustrates this using three concentric circles with "Why" in the center, followed by "How", and then "What" in the outer ring.

"While it is easy to talk about what you do, the more successful companies focus on the 'Why' and they start their messaging from there," Mr. Sinek said.

I'd like to translate this what, how and why idea to what we do as units within our Air Force. I think this would add value since believing in the "Why" that we do something increases the chances for innovation and inspiration.

Mr. Sinek said, "It's not what you do, but why you do it" that brings people back to a company or has them try a new product or service.

A great example he used was Martin Luther King's famous speech. The belief in "I have a dream," not "I have a plan," was what motivated so many people. His words and actions helped others believe in that dream. A belief strong enough to gather thousands based on "Why."

Consider that when we talk about a process improvement or reaching new goals in your day to day mission and in our military. While we face force shaping and various resource challenges to get the mission done, the need for innovation also continues. Fostering innovation means connecting with creativity and that is a vital part of problem solving and solution discovery. We've heard it before: if our Airmen know why they do what they do or why their job is vital to the mission, they'll be more invested in their contribution to the Air Force.

As an example, in our squadron, "What" we do could be plainly stated as fixing teeth and gums and preventing oral disease. How? By offering a variety of dental services and keeping our access to care within reach. While succinct, those definitions of our mission don't drive innovation or inspire creativity like "Delivering the Ultimate Patient Experience."

I have found that many of the conversations I have with our fellow Airmen include what motivates us to serve. Whether the topic is career progression, resource challenges, education opportunities, or mission strategy, the inclusion of the basic question "Why do you do what you do?" is important. I am filled with pride and gratitude when I hear answers like "I want to serve my country" or "I love being in the Air Force." However, when we emphasize our contributions as a squadron or group, I can feel that sense of renewed value in our service be understood.

The Air Force values of "integrity, service before self, and excellence in all we do" at its core serve as ever present guides in our everyday decisions. Adding the "why" to those principles will help continue to foster creativity and innovation with each supervisor helping Airmen understand why we do what we do at a foundational level. I believe it's the difference between just doing our jobs and keeping our Air Force the best flying, fighting force in the world!