Simon Sinek has made purpose and the “WHY” popular in all sorts of ways, but there is really little evidence to support the idea that purpose is the main ingredient of motivation at work. Many organizations are actually struggling with people who are asking the question “why” too much. Why as in “why bother?”, “why me?”, “why work for this jerk? So, I am proposing that you actually want people to ask this question a lot less. When people ask why, they are doing so because their progress is blocked. Flow, on the other hand, is defined as a state of submersion in task. When people are motivated and productive, they are not thinking about why but HOW to get on with it.
Motivation as a concept is much more woolly than you might think. It’s just not that simple to give someone a why and they will overcome all barriers, as Sinek would have you believe. Real research into what motivates people to go the extra mile, to innovate and to collaborate tells a less heroic story about leadership. Dreams will not overcome a workday full of frustration, road blocks, boredom and neglect. If you listen to the people who research intrinsic motivation, they will talk significantly more about autonomy, competence and connection much more than purpose.
In the book, The Progress Principle, Teresa Amabile demonstrates that people are much more intrinsically motivated by accomplishment. When you make progress, even just a little every day, you are more motivated, creative and collaborative. Purpose is a nice to have rather than a must.
I think, too, that Sinek shifts the focus from the practical to the abstract; from behaviour to ideas. And this only confuses leaders about what is the true nature of leadership work.
The work of leadership is to create spaces where people can achieve small and great goals everyday. To solve problems, to make a small difference, to share a success, to master a difficult challenge. In reality, you should only get involved to remove roadblocks, prevent reduction of autonomy and facilitate greater collaboration. You may not be seen at all.
An effective motivational strategy stimulates SELF-MOTIVATION. It's not especially heroic to but it's much more effective.