Putting the Horse Before the Cart

Posted by on Mar 14, 2014 | No Comments


We’re all in such a rush.  We want to figure out how to market ourselves, our companies, our products and services as quickly as possible to get the money comin’ in the door.  What’s our “brand”?  What’s our “elevator pitch”?  What’s our “value proposition”?  Important stuff.  It makes a lot of sense – after all, no money, no company – but both organizationally and personally we tend to put the cart before the horse.  We work so hard to get clear about how we want the world to perceive us before we’ve reach clarity about who we really are and what we’re really after.

In the past, organizations could get away with that.  If we were the company in town who sold widgets, then the people who needed widgets would come and spend their money at our place.  Even when three other widget-companies showed up, we could count on people who lived closest to buy our widgets, or our loyal customers to buy our widgets, or we could put our widgets on sale to woo the widget-buyers to our shop.  We were confident that there was enough need for widgets that we would be fine.  But times have changed.  And now, not only are there 20 widget shops nearby, but people can buy widgets on the internet for half the price.  Or they can download the instructions to make their own widgets.  Or find a artisan widget-maker on Etsy who makes incredibly unique widgets.  Or find some crowd-sourced site would make it possible for widget-makers from around the world to create an awesome widget-solution for free.  Or (gasp) they may have even found something that works better than widgets and no longer need widgets at all!  With cost and proximity no longer the deciding factors, companies have to find something to differentiate themselves.  They have to give customers a reason to buy beyond their product or service, because products and services have become a commodity.  Simon Sinek has done a brilliant job in helping companies understand the need for clarity around their purpose.  “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

And the need for understanding our “why” is just as critical on the individual level, but is seemingly far more elusive.  The question feels too big to tackle so we focus on things that require more immediate attention.  With our never-ending to-do lists, like hamsters on a wheel, we’re going-going-going, working hard, trying to please our clients, trying to please our bosses, taking care of our families, chasing success, paying our bills, and wonder why there’s never an end in sight.  Rarely do we stop and evaluate why we’re doing all this in the first place.   Why do we care?  We do what we do for the sake of what?  While most of us hunger for something greater than survival, few of us risk stepping away from the race long enough to remember why we’re running in the first place.

Why do you care about the work you do?  What impact do you hope to have on your customers, or employees, or colleagues?  Your organization?  Your industry?  Your community?  In OnStage lingo we say, “What’s your Super Objective?”


Because if you don’t know why you care, that’s a problem.  If you’re not clear about why you care, why would your employees care?  Don’t your customers want to work with someone who really cares about something more than getting their money?  Why would a company want to hire and invest in someone who isn’t clear about why they care?

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

And if you don’t know why you care, what inspires you through the tough times?  What re-energizes you when things feel hard?   What gives you the courage to act when you’re scared?  If you can’t name the impact you want to have, how can you evaluate if you’ve had it?   What gets you back on track if you’ve lost your way?   How can you identify the right opportunity from the wrong one?  How can you choose the best course of action rather than simply react?  To ensure you’re running the race that’s worth winning?  Because I can’t tell you how many “very successful” senior executives I’ve met who have exchanged a whole lot of their life’s energy and time only to question 35-years-in, “What was it all for?”


It doesn’t lead to fewer hours.  It doesn’t vaporize tough times.  It doesn’t guarantee massive paychecks or notoriety.  But it gives you a compass to ensure you’re heading in the right direction, that your actions have impact, and that your efforts are worth it.  It gives the people around you a reason to follow.  A reason to “buy”.  A reason to believe.  Because they know what you stand for – why you care.

As my OnStage-grad-turned-friend Stew Carson likes to say, it’s “a personal check-and-balance on how consistently (you’re) delivering value.”  Are you walking your talk?

Why.  The driving force behind authentic leadership.  The horse before the cart.

 ©OnStage Leadership, 2013;  Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop.  If you found this helpful, interesting, thought-provoking, or inspiring please “recommend”, “Like” and share.  It is only through your generosity that we can reach those who may find it valuable too.

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