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Agents of Aspiration – Buy the Why

Throughout the world, there are millions of people who give up countless hours of their time to help charities and good causes. Have you ever wondered why people do that? Have you ever considered why they give up precious time – often for no pay or reward? It is because they ‘buy the why’.

My wife and I run a children’s charity, and each year our volunteers give up their time and a week of their holiday to serve and help children and young people. Some of the volunteers also work tirelessly throughout the year to help the charity run. Why does each volunteer do this? It is because they ‘buy the why’.

This year has seen a compassionate response to the situation in Ukraine, with thousands of people willing to open their homes to give refuge to those fleeing the war that has stricken their homeland. Why do they do this? It is because they ‘buy the why’.

It is the why, not the what

It is not the ‘what’ that people respond to. It is the ‘why’ – the reason that prompts action in people. Advertisers know this, which is why when you look at adverts, they show you the impact that buying their produce can have. Simon Sinek talks about this in his TED Talk and book, ‘Start with Why’ and explains that if we want to engage people, we need to start not with the ‘what’ – the action we want them to do – but with the ‘why’ – the purpose behind the action.

Our blogs this month are exploring how to be ‘agents of aspiration’; how to help provoke in people a desire and passion to aspire to new and greater things. Leadership is about taking people on a journey, to aspire to something new and different. If we are to be agents of aspiration we have to a) know our ‘why’, our reason, b) help followers understand the ‘why’ of the journey in terms that engage with their personal ‘why’ and c) paint the picture of the destination that is so attractive that it outweighs their reason for maintaining the status quo.

Know your why

If you ask someone, “why did you do that?”, they often do not know how to explain their reasoning. Instead, change the question to “what is it about what you did that was important?” They are more likely to be able to explain in response to this reworded question. So, if you want to encourage others to aspire to something, then ask yourself, “what is it about this that is important?”. Keep asking yourself this and you can get it down to a root one or two words. Maybe if it is aspiring to a new admin system, the reason might be ‘time saving’ or ‘ease’. If it is a new approach to working with stakeholders, then it might be about ‘connection’ or ‘partnership’. We need to get clear on the purpose first before we can make it clear to others.

Engages with their ‘why’

If you are involved in any interest or community group, or charity, reflect on how much of what you are involved with aligns with your own personal interest and passion. Chances are that there is a lot of alignment. We buy into what we are interested in. So, when we are looking to engage people in aspiring to something new, we need to understand what they are passionate about and help them to buy into it. The way to do this is to find the Venn diagram intersection between our purpose and theirs, so we can target our information on where their ‘why’ meets ours. That way, they see how relevant it is to them and want to buy into it.

A why that is attractive and greater than the status quo

In our work with organisations, we talk about how ‘reason for change has to be greater than reason not to’ for people to engage. They are currently doing the status quo and it is ok; they know what they’re doing and the energy it takes, and are comfortable with that. If we want people to put in more time and effort into aspiring to something better, then it needs to be worth it. This is all about painting the picture so it is compelling. How compelling is what you want people to aspire to? What will the benefit be? What difference will it make?


The word ‘agent’ has several meanings. For some, it is a spy, for some it is a job of mediation and connecting you with the right product (e.g., travel agent or estate agent). As leaders, we are agents of aspiration, and we are mediators helping those who follow us to understand how what is on offer is for them, and to get their buy in. Buy in comes when they ‘buy the why’.


Can we help you?

Are you struggling to engage people in the buy in? Unclear of what picture you want to paint for others?

We could help you through coaching to discover your 'why', 'how' and 'what'. Everyday Leader’s team of coaches can help you understand what is going on in your head and how you can manage your emotions and other people in those moments. Give us a call on 01449 710438 if you would like us to help you explore this and empower you and your team.

Everyday Leader is here to empower, inspire and equip you to do that. If we can help you find a way forward, through coaching, training or consultancy, do let us know. Contact us now:


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