"WHY" don’t they understand? And what if they did?

by  Chery Gegelman  |  Leadership Development


When I was in early elementary school, a neighbor’s grandchild came over to play.  All afternoon she asked, “Why?” Literally everything my sisters and I said received an instant punctuation from this little girl, “Why?”  By the time the day ended we had given her a new nickname…“The Why Girl.”

What I did not realize at the time was that although I don’t end everyone else’s sentences with a verbal “why,” mentally, I ask that question almost as constantly as she did.

A few years later I was sitting in a classroom.  We had recently studied money, so I knew:

  • That the value of a quarter was 25 cents.
  • And that a quarter-of-a-dollar was an actual quarter.

Then we started to study time.

  • It did not take long to realize that when it was 15 minutes after an hour we were supposed to say,  “It is a quarter after.”
  • The part I struggled to articulate was that although I knew what answer I was supposed to give, I did not understand why.  How could a quarter be 25 cents and a quarter be 15 minutes?  I thought a quarter of anything was 25???

The tough part for me was that I no matter how hard I tried, I could not articulate my question in a way that my teacher could understand.  Eventually I quit trying to understand why and just said gave the expected answer.  However, until I understood why, I did not believe in the answer.

Clearly in this example, I was wrong.  But what if ny teacher had listened closely enough to see how the dots were connecting for me?  Would she have become a better teacher?

And what if I’d been right? (Stranger things have happened – at one time scholars said the earth was flat and that it was the center of the universe!)

In many of our organizations our employees and customers are trying to connect dots that don’t make sense to them.  

  • When we don’t take the time to help them understand, we miss opportunities to clarify our vision and our purpose.
  • When we push people to nod in agreement, we miss opportunities to build trust.
  • When we don’t seek first to understand what their questions are, we miss opportunities to engage their hearts, we miss opportunities to learn, and far too often we miss opportunities to adjust our plans and grow our organizations.

This link will take you to a post with 7 real-life examples.  As you read each of the situations ask yourself how much of a difference it would have made if titled leaders, customers and employees were in agreement about the why and  if they  had listened more intently to each other’s questions.

Photo credits:  iStock Photo


 Chery Gegelman is one of 21 authors from 3 countries that connected virtually and discovered a shared passion that resulted in a new book:

The Character-Based Leader:  Instigating a leadership revolution… One person at a time.

377028_10151043037557083_218040194_nThis book encourages people everywhere to lead from WHO they are not WHERE they sit.

“Do what you can, with what you have, right where you are.” Theodore Roosevelt

“With great power, comes great responsibility.” Stan Lee, Franklin D Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Voltaire

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About The Author

Articles By chery-gegelman
Chery Gegelman was once a frustrated visionary that learned to lead extensive system-wide changes from the middle. Today she is The Founder of Giana Consulting, listed as a Great Leadership Speaker by Inc., writes a recognized leadership blog and has co-authored two books. Her passion is bringing help and understanding to people and organizations that are leading through change to growth.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Jon Mertz  |  08 Nov 2012  |  Reply

Some great thoughts, Chery. It seems to come down to developing the purpose and ensuring the purpose is understood. Understanding the “why” is what makes the “what” work well! Thanks! Jon

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