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Unlocking Success: The Power of ‘Who Not How’

Dan Sullivan - Who Not How book

Five years ago, I sat among a group of eager entrepreneurs and business leaders in Toronto, all of us drawn together by the promise of learning something transformative from Dan Sullivan, founder of Strategic Coach. During this session, Dan shared a new idea he was exploring—'Who Not How.' This concept, still in its infancy, was about to become a cornerstone of his coaching program and later, a New York Times bestselling book.

This idea immediately resonated with me. Like many in the room, I prided myself on my ability to learn and adapt quickly, yet I often wondered why some individuals with less “perceived” capabilities in certain areas seemed to achieve greater success. The answer was a shift in focus from 'how' to 'who.' This simple yet profound shift was not about acquiring more skills but rather leveraging the right people who already possessed the necessary experience and insights. This approach promised not only to simplify challenges but also to accelerate success—essentially a cheat code to achieving bigger and faster results.

Adopting this mindset has revolutionized both our approach to challenges and our company culture. In the next sections, I'll share how 'Who Not How' has shaped our success, how to overcome challenges adapting this mindset, and a crucial aspect I think the book misses.

The Power of Choosing 'Who' Over 'How’ Bridging the Gap

Every goal presents a gap — a discrepancy between where you are now and where you want to be. If the gap didn't exist, the goal would already be achieved. So, how do you bridge this gap? There are two main strategies: tackling the challenge yourself, which involves a significant opportunity cost, or leveraging the right 'who' to expedite the journey.

The Cost of Independence Choosing to go it alone means dedicating time to learning, managing and executing the work, hiring the right person eventually, and then training them. This route is not only time-consuming but also leads to complexity and decision fatigue, as you juggle multiple responsibilities and decisions, draining your energy and willpower that could have been spent in higher leverage activities.

Working with someone who has already mastered the path provides a shortcut by bypassing much of the trial and error typically required.

The Power of Tacit Knowledge

One of the most undervalued aspects of achieving success is tacit knowledge — the hands-on, hard-earned experience that can only be gained through doing. You can study theories and strategies endlessly, but without practical application, the knowledge remains theoretical. Working with someone who has already mastered the path provides a shortcut by bypassing much of the trial and error typically required.

Overcoming Barriers

The presence of a goal often brings with it hesitation and fear, especially when faced with the unknown. Engaging the right 'who' not only strengthens your commitment to your goal but also provides the accountability needed to maintain momentum. Procrastination is actually a powerful signal that you need to find a who.

Challenges in Adopting 'Who Not How’

Embracing 'Who Not How' is often challenging, particularly for high achievers. Typically, success and capability have been defined by one's ability to figure things out independently—'how' has become ingrained in their identity. This mindset is deeply rooted in the educational system where collaboration is frequently viewed as cheating and competition is emphasized over teamwork.

What got you here won’t get you there.

High performers often equate personal control with success, viewing reliance on others as a vulnerability rather than a strength. This resistance is not just about losing control but involves a significant shift in mindset. The mantra "what got you here won’t get you there" is pertinent here; the skills that have previously defined their success are not the ones that will elevate them to the next level.

Mastering 'Who Not How’

Success in the 'Who Not How' approach hinges on two crucial elements: clarity of vision and the delegation of control. To effectively implement this strategy, you must be crystal clear on what you want to achieve. This involves not only outlining the desired outcome but also describing it in vivid and detailed terms. Once the vision is set, the key is to step back and allow your chosen 'who' to navigate the 'how.'

"Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom."—Albert Einstein

Selecting the right 'who' means trusting them as the expert—someone who inherently knows the best way to achieve the goals. This trust is not just about their capability; it also taps into their intrinsic motivation. When people are given freedom and ownership, they are driven to excel and innovate.

The Missing Chapter: Essentials of Selecting Your 'Who’

As transformative as the "Who Not How" philosophy can be, there's a glaring gap in most discussions around it: the process of actually vetting and selecting the right "who." While the book excellently addresses the mindset shift needed to stop focusing solely on "how," it largely overlooks the equally crucial part of finding the right people to delegate to. This oversight can lead not just to suboptimal results, but in some cases, more harm than good.

From my own journey and the experiences shared by others who attended the same workshop, I've seen first-hand the excitement about this concept leading to hasty decisions. Most people, myself included, initially believe that any "who" will do. However, this often results in choosing partners, coaches, or consultants without the rigorous vetting that we would apply to key hires within our companies.

Why This Matters

Embracing the right "who" is not just about filling a role but finding someone whose capabilities truly match the need. People skilled at learning and doing often assume others can achieve the same outcomes quickly, which isn't always the case. This mismatch can lead to lost time, effort, and—most critically—confidence in the ability of others to help, thereby reinforcing the default to "how."

The best predictor of future success is a demonstrated past performance

A key factor in selecting the right "who" is their proven track record of success in the areas you need assistance with. The best predictor of future success is a demonstrated past performance, so ensuring your "who" has a history of achieving the outcomes you're aiming for is essential.

 

 

Selecting the Right 'Who'

The right "who" is someone you're in sync with, where there is good chemistry and high trust. This relationship doesn't require constant oversight but thrives on mutual respect and the freedom to act.

"I don’t want to work on a relationship. I just want a relationship that works."

A great "who" is self-managing, follows through and is coachable—taking feedback and learning from it without repeating mistakes. The difference between a good "who" and a great "who" is not incremental; it's exponential. A great "who" doesn't just make your life easier; they energize you, expand your capabilities, and significantly enhance your potential.

 

The High Cost of Settling

Settling for a merely good "who" when you could have a great one is a common trap. Life is too short, and the stakes are too high to settle for mediocrity. Use trust as your compass—if you find yourself frequently checking on them or doubting their decisions, you likely haven't found the right "who." The effort to restart the search and find someone truly aligned with your vision is worth it because the right "who" can change your life.

 

Conclusion: The Power and Pitfalls of 'Who Not How’

In conclusion, while the "Who Not How" philosophy is powerful, its implementation is only as good as the "who" you choose. It's a cautionary tale that deserves attention: the right mindset must be matched with diligent selection. In my next post, I will dive deep into a systematic approach to selecting the right "who," based on over five years of refining these methods.

About The Author

Brandon is our CEO and founder. He is always striving to be "optimal" - not to be right, but to get it right. He loves to work on strategy and systems - to find patterns and meaning in random information.

Outside the office, he loves to read, hike, play board games, and spend time with his wife, Erin, and family of 4 kids.

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