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The key to trust begins with why

Progressive Dairyman Field Editor Jenna Hurty-Person Published on 11 September 2017

“What’s your why?” Heath Slawner, a member of Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” team, asks. “And by why, I mean what’s your cause? What’s your purpose? What inspires you in the morning to wake up and go to work?

Why does your company exist? Why does your farm exist? Why do you do what you do? And, more importantly, why should anyone care?”



Every business, team, person has a why, Slawner argues. They have a purpose beyond making money.

“When we tap into that power of the why, when we tap into the power of that cause, beyond just the profit – that gives you a huge advantage,” Slawner says. “The converse is if you don’t have a why.”

“If you don’t have a sense of why you do what you do, then you can’t communicate it to the people who matter most, whether that’s a team member, whether that’s a herdsman, whether that’s a milker or whether that’s someone who’s working in your research and academic setting; if you can’t communicate it, then you are at a disadvantage.”

“You are at a disadvantage in terms of making decisions, you’re at a disadvantage in terms of inspiring the people around you, you’re at a disadvantage when you try to influence people to make a change and, more than anything else, you’re at a disadvantage in terms of how you tell your story.”

Slawner says it’s easiest for people to lose their way when they are not clear about their lives. In fact, he strongly believes the “future belongs to those people, those organizations, those teams, those companies that have a sense of their purpose and have the capacity to communicate. When you lose your why, you lose your way.”


The flip side are companies with people who show up to work just for the paycheck, people who do enough work to keep their job but fail to go above and beyond. To find their why or “sense of purpose to something beyond just yourself,” he says each company, team and individual will need to go through two shifts.

“The most successful organizations, the most successful companies, the most successful individuals and leaders, those who have the capacity to inspire, those who have the capacity to innovate and connect on a deeper level with the people who matter most, are making two shifts,” Slawner says.

“The first shift is around purpose … this idea of a clear why and the capacity and ability to communicate that with the people who matter most – the consumer, the team members, your milkmen, your colleagues, peers, etc. … the shift is from defining yourself by what you do to defining yourself by why you do it.”

The second shift, Slawner says, is the idea of trust. Lack of trust is what makes us uncertain about the future. It’s why companies or individuals feel threatened. The best companies do not sit idle and hope to earn their employees’ and customers’ trust; they actively seek it out and invest in it.

“We actually need to be intentional about how we build trust,” Slawner says. “The shift is from that low, accidental, hopefully it happens, hopefully people trust us situation to an environment where we intentionally invest in trust.”

“Because, make no mistake about it, trust is the foundation of a company; trust is the foundation of accomplishment – and the future belongs, as I said before, to those companies that have a clear sense of purpose and understand that if they don’t build trust with their stakeholders, whoever they are, they’re never going to accomplish as much as they hope.”


To help visualize it, draw three concentric circles. In the outer circle, write “what,” “how” in the middle circle and, finally, “why” in the smallest circle. This is known as the “Golden Circle.” The what refers to the products and services you sell or provide. It’s the content.

The how refers to your process, values and technology. The why is what you are willing to fight for. It is what inspires you to wake up every day. The why, Slawner says, is the hardest one to achieve – and few individuals, companies and leaders can clearly articulate their why.

“When we market, when we advocate, when we go on social media, we typically communicate from the outside in,” Slawner says. “We tell people what we do, we tell people the tools and the technologies and the systems and the processes – and then we expect people’s support ... it doesn’t work that way. Companies, teams, organizations, people who start with what don’t have the capacity to inspire, don’t have the capacity to connect.”

Now think about companies you admire. Each one of them likely has a distinct sense of why. This, Slawner says, is because “when people feel cared for, when people feel valued, they will then start taking care of other people.”

For example, Starbucks is a well-known coffee company. However, Slawner says their management will tell you they are not in the coffee business; they are in the people business – they just happen to sell coffee. In fact, their why is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit.”

If this confuses you a little bit, you are not alone, Slawner says. The why is elusive because it is often a very abstract construct, which is why people typically have so much difficulty with it. Our analytical, logical minds prefer to spend our time focusing on the what.

However, the emotional part of our brain corresponds to the why level. At this level, Slawner says, you generate trust, feelings and loyalty. Gaining these is critical since they propel you to a level where you can influence people’s decisions.

You can bore people to death with facts, processes and technology, but you will not connect with your audience on an emotional level using that approach, he says.

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it,” Slawner says. “If you are clear about why you do what you do, people will naturally be attracted to you. People who believe what you believe will naturally be drawn to you, but if you are not clear about your why, how will anyone else know whether to follow you?”

To do that, however, you need to be vulnerable and put yourself out there in front of people and show them who you are. You need to build that relationship with them. Without it, you will not gain their trust.

“We have to take care of the people, we have to connect, inspire and engage,” Slawner says. “Whether you’re a leader for people, whether it’s research, whether you’re a veterinarian, the science doesn’t even matter – what matters is your ability, your willingness to step out there and say, ‘This is my why; this is my calling; this is my purpose,’ and connect and engage with the people who also believe in that.”

You can’t manage people to trust you; you have to show them you care. You have to build a relationship with them.

“No one wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I can’t wait to be managed today; please manage me,’” Slawner says. “What we need are leaders. Leaders with the sense of purpose, leaders with a willingness to step out there and build trust because when we do, the people will take care of you; they will take care of the business.”  end mark

This article is based off of Heath Slawner’s presentation, “Start with Why – How to inspire action and build trust,” at the National Mastitis Council’s 56th annual meeting Jan. 28-30 in St. Pete Beach, Florida.

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