By Liz Massey, Jan. 15, 2015.
Last month, I took a timeout from my work duties to have a festive holiday lunch at a new local hotspot with a colleague. As is often our custom, we spent much of our time together discussing ways in which the “systems” in our lives – be they work-, home- or community-related – weren’t, in our opinion, functioning at their best, and offering each other feedback to make those systems better.
One of the pieces of advice my colleague offered me during our lunch was to read a book by author Simon Sinek, Start With Why. The official purpose of Sinek’s book is to help leaders improve their ability to inspire large groups of people, but inside of this little book, I believe I have found the key to every human-caused problem on the face of the Earth.
The reason I say this is because Start With Why nails the real reason most leadership initiatives, indeed most initiatives aimed at eliciting a certain sort of behavior out of someone else, fail.
As he puts it, “There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.” Sinek says most people and most institutions choose the manipulation route because it works. But there also is a huge price to pay – namely, if you can’t sustain your manipulation (such as offering bigger and bigger discounts, producing the newest shiny product in your industry, or keeping your client base scared of the alternatives to working with you), people will choose something else.
I think that the questions this book raises are particularly relevant for the LGBT community at this time. Our movement is at a crossroads. The tide of the battle for marriage equality has turned. Short of a meltdown at the U.S. Supreme Court next year, we will have nationwide relationship recognition very, very soon. When that happens, our goals – along with the counter-attack strategies of our opponents – will shift.
For most of our community’s existence, the only goal we could reasonably pursue was our survival. While we will still need to advocate for the equality and safety for LGBT people after the marriage battle is won, we also need to consider what our purpose as a social and political movement will be once those aims are more completely met.
After reading Start With Why, I’m left with the following thoughts about the state of queer leadership, and what we might want to do next.
1. We need to view our movement in terms more broad than simply our own physical and legal survival.
Creating a world where queer people can be out encourages ALL people to live with authenticity and integrity. It promotes a society that allows people to take pride in who they are, who can then focus on making their highest contribution to the world.
2. Articulating the deeper why of the LGBT community will shape our strategy going forward.
Our opponents rather disingenuously criticize us for only caring about our own needs. However, if we frame the why of our liberation in the terms just mentioned, it’s clear that our mission once our own needs are met should shift to securing those freedoms for all groups in society that lack them. This will clarify who we should be partnering with and which political movements align the best with our own.
3. We need to do a better job of linking our why with our what and how.
If equality is the “what” that is the end result when we follow our “why” of fighting for better conditions for ourselves, being able to come to better agreement of how we achieve equality is crucial.
4. We need a “gay agenda”!
Yes, I know the religious right has used this term against us for many years. But our aspirations as a community should be something greater than to simply assimilate once we’ve achieved equal rights.
Our successes in promoting authenticity through legal parity are too great a gift to squander by surrendering our ability (not to mention talents and experience) to advocate for what is right.
Sinek tells readers that, in the final analysis, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” After reading his book, I’ve been challenged to sharpen my focus on my own personal why. This exercise has re-affirmed for me that my work revolves around my belief that true stories about people’s lives have the power to change the world. Knowing my why may never make me a leader in the conventional, “command and control” sense, or super-charge my career, but it does help me know why I get out of bed in the morning to write and edit – and that may help me motivate and influence others to do the great work that is theirs to do!