Explain. Please.

Fred Wilson, the VC and brilliant blogger of AVC (to which you should definitely subscribe) wrote a piece recently on a machine learning concept called "Explainability."

Basically, it's what and how sites automatically "learn" which ads, links, news updates, etc. to send  to you after you've visited pretty much anywhere online.

Fred's question was "why?" Why are those the sites that are 'recommended' once a platform you're using or visited has 'seen' what you're writing about, clicking on, messaging....

I can't speak to machine learning (other than to say that I think it's creepy) but I can definitely speak to the question "why?" and just how powerful a tool it is in developing your leadership chops.

Too often, employees are told what to do and how to do it. And that's all they're told.

What they're rarely told is why, like:

  • Why are they being asked to perform a particular task a particular way...or at all?
  • Why are they being asked to deliver a specific amount of product per day or week or month?
  • Why do they have to answer a certain number of calls - or only take a certain amount of time on each call?
  • Why can they only ask or contact certain people or functions and not others when they need information or guidance?
  • Why is training available to some but not all employees?
  • Why aren't they being developed the way they were told they would be in their annual performance appraisal review meeting?
  • Why is there a salary ceiling for their job - and why doesn't that ceiling apply for new employees hired to do the same work?
  • Why do they have to work onsite - or certain hours or days of the week - when their job doesn't require it?

Frankly, there isn't an aspect of work that doesn't benefit from having the "why" answer attached to it.

Why? Because when you explain why you need what you need from colleagues, coworkers, teammates or subordinates, you'll get more and better information about what it really takes to create success than you'd ever otherwise have access to.

And when you explain why there are constraints on salary, benefits, working conditions, etc. - especially if those constraints are because of competition - you'll get more support from your employees in helping turn the organization in the direction and the speed you need.

"What" and "how" are management directives. They lead to specific, measurable outcomes that fulfill management indicators and requirements that most often come from some other level and were set at some other time.

"Why" opens the door to information access - for you - about the processes and systems within which employees are operating...and why they don't work. Or make sense. Or are doomed to fail.

Give it a try. The next time you're giving a directive or making an announcement, explain why. Then just wait. You'll be shocked in the most positive way at the level of problem-solving and innovative thinking that your colleagues - and, particularly, your subordinates - are more than willing to give you.

They've had it all along. You just didn't know that all it would take was a single word to be invited to share in all their thinking.