The final element of leading from the soul is moral purpose. There is a terrific book on this issue by consultant Simon Sinek, titled, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Sinek argues that while most of us and the organizations we work for can readily articulate what we do and how we do it, all too often there is confusion or even no understanding of why. Why provides the beliefs and convictions that direct the what and how. If the why is missing, everything else is the product of randomness and, even more troubling, its absence provides a vacuum that will be filled by divergent interests and nefarious actors. As Sinek points out, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., had a dream, and he shared it on August 28, 1963 with 250,000 people on the mall in Washington DC. People gathered from all over the United States without having received an invitation by way of Facebook, Twitter, email, or cellphone. The three most prevalent phrases in King’s speech are “I have a dream,” “Let freedom ring,” and “Now is the time.” King left us no doubt what he believed, nor of the urgency of his purpose. Like King, Steve Jobs of Apple also has a why. Jobs’ why, is to place the power of computing in the hands of every individual in the world. Today that might not sound impressive, but when Jobs started his quest in 1976, it was patently absurd; computers were never envisioned for use by anyone unless they were employed by a large corporations that would buy them from a company called International Business Machines. Jobs and his partner Steve Wozniak were determined to change all that, and in so doing they, like King, changed the world.
The search for why may be the single most important and illusive challenge we face in our lives, but it is also a challenge that must not be ignored, however frustrating it may be at times. Why are we here? What is our purpose in life? What gives our life meaning? And, perhaps the most perplexing question, how do we know what we know? We can and must ask ourselves these questions, as well as ask them of others — especially our leaders. I study presidents and foreign policy. The what happened and how it happened are usually self-evident. The why is a much more difficult question. Why did George W. Bush believe there were WMD and al-Qaeda in Iraq when there were not? Why did Bill Clinton wait so long to support action in the Balkans while the evidence of genocide was obvious? Why did Reagan decide he could trust Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of an empire he claimed was evil? Why was Carter compelled to seek peace in the Middle East, or give the Panama Canal back to Panama? I’ll offer you a methodology that works with presidents and can also be applied to your own lives: look for integrity by and between the what, how, and why. If there is a pattern of consistency—if the three are aligned—you probably have identified the why. I can tell you with presidents the public why they offer seldom reconciles with the facts of what and how. There is usually a private why that emanates from what I call their unique cognetic profile, which is somewhat analogous, in this context, to their soul. If our own answers or those of our leaders do not reconcile—if they do not have internal integrity—we must demand of ourselves and our leaders that they do.
To say that these are difficult times is a gross understatement, but there may not be words adequate to describe the challenges that face us, individually or collectively, as citizens or a nation. What we can do, however, is take a step back, take a deep breath, and remind ourselves that solitude is powerful, transcendent courage is essential, and that each of us must find our why and honor our moral purpose. If we do, we will regain our capacity to lead from the soul.