Sequoia Leaders use WIIFT, not WIIFM


Most people have heard of the famous radio station, WII-FM. The acronym is designed to get the leader, when connecting with another employee or customer to think about “What’s In It For Me?”

Sequoia leadership takes a different look at these connections. Instead of WWIFM, which uses the self-centered word “me”, Sequoia leaders always put the other person first. Think about the example of the mighty sequoia tree. Although it stands over the other forestation, the sequoia allows the nutrients in the sun and rain to get to the ground. Once there, growing vegetation enjoys the nutrients from the rain first before it filters down to the sequoia’s own roots.

Consider this example.

To say that Bill, not his real name, was self-centered would be an insult to self-centered people around the world. Bill was more than self-centered. He was totally focused on himself. Every opportunity that came to his department became an opportunity for Bill to be glorified. Every accomplishment by any of his people was an accomplishment for which Bill took full credit.

To ensure that none of his people would get the idea that one of their successes was the result of their own work, Bill felt it necessary to continually change the scope of projects. Sometimes he would retain a specific piece of information needed to reach an ultimate successful conclusion so that he was assured nobody could present a completed project to anyone but himself. He led through intimidation and by making his people feel inadequate and inferior.

He saw no need to draw talent from his people, he saw them strictly as instruments to do the legwork that he could repackage and present it as his own work.

Sure, Bill had many good qualities. He had moved up the ranks in a Fortune 100 company because he had demonstrated the talent to get things done. He knew how to integrate goals together to increase productivity. He also was a master at finding opportunities where employee and suppliers could work together for charitable efforts. But for the purposes of what we are examining here we must look at how leaders, even those with the most giving hearts, can evolve one area of their persona that stifles employee engagement.

WIIFM was Bill’s motto. He was turned strongly into the station. Every push button on his radio was set to it. He always thought about what was in it for him thinking that his answer would also motivate others.

The only exception to this rule is when something goes wrong, in which case the focus of a leader is definitely on “me”, taking full personal responsibility for the error.

So, this brings up the replacement term: “WIIFT”. It replaces the “me” with “them”. When faced with a new policy, procedure, product, or service, the Sequoia leader considers the question, “What’s In It For Them?” The subtle difference in this question versus the original is that the leader is thinking about what the leader should be thinking about -- the team.

“Wift” is defined by Lexico as “To move lightly to and fro to drift. Chiefly with adverb, as on, around, etc.

The next time you want to cultivate great relationships catch the scent or whiff of the forest. Fell the gentle breeze and hear the rustle of the leaves. Then lead like a Sequoia.