Becoming a Leader:
I have a fear of simply being a manager when I could be a leader. What’s wrong with a manager? Nothing, really; a good manager gets things done, makes sure people have the skills they need to be effective, includes everyone in big decisions, and satisfies the needs of his superiors. But there is nothing—dare I use the word?—inspirational about management.
Eisenhower’s LessonGeneral Eisenhower observed that “leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” This is more than just getting a job done; it is creating a passion for the job that didn’t previously exist. But if leadership is an art, it is also a science, something that can be identified, quantified, and replicated. Important principles of leadership can be learned and applied.
I coach speakers. I work with professional speakers and with people who present often as a sales enablement strategy. Having the opportunity to speak to a group is a great trust: we call it the “Privilege of the Platform.” But I regularly see that privilege wasted when it can be a powerful leadership opportunity. Even a chance encounter in the hall can influence behavior, using the same tools as a speech in front of four hundred people. Let’s look at three principles that apply to the lecture hall and the lunchroom.
Know Your AudienceWhat do they care about? What are their concerns and problems and needs? When you spend some time listening and understanding, you will have the ability to frame your discussion from their perspective. What are the benefits to them? A speaker has about 30 seconds to establish her credibility, and it’s not based on her degrees earned or books written! Leave that to the introduction. Instead, immediately show that you understand the audience and you have a solution for their need. That will make them care a lot more about listening to what you have to say than a recitation of your resume.
What about a one-on-one with your employee? In the same way, you will increase your influence by exhibiting understanding and interest in their work lives. Do you know what their greatest accomplishments and challenges are? The best compliment we pay anyone is to listen to them. That opens the door to influence by informing our understanding and creating a bridge of trust.
Create an Emotional ConnectionThis is critical to behavior change. Speakers do this by telling stories. If you want your audience to care about a key take-away, anchor it with a story. Stories are memorable and invoke emotion. Without that emotional connection, your audience may be interested, perhaps even fascinated, but it will never move to the level of motivating change. Remember, people buy on emotion and justify with facts.
I had a client in a very scientific, highly-regulated industry that said this didn’t apply to her groups; they were all scientists in new drug development and were only interested in facts. I asked her to tell me their greatest fear; she immediately replied that it was being shut down by the FDA. “Does that ever happen?” I asked. “Oh, yes, it can. That’s why our services are so important,” she answered. Bingo. When she described one instance of a research company that was shut down because they didn’t survive an audit, she evoked a visceral reaction in even the most staid scientist in the room. Then she moved on to the research findings, statistics, and other facts that met the needs of the audience, and her potential clients were much more attuned and emotionally connected to the solution she offered.
In the same way, you can use examples and anecdotes to help an individual see what success looks like, vicariously feel the sense of accomplishment that will come from the advised action, or understand the urgency of a situation and the need to respond with full commitment. Stories are memorable, and when we remember them we re-experience the feelings that they evoked.
Create a Clear and Agreeable Action PlanThe third principle is to create an action plan that is clear and agreeable to everyone. In a room with two hundred people, you can invite each person to write down one step that will focus their commitment into an identifiable behavior change. There may be as many different ideas as there are people in the room; the key is that they have bought into your ideas and they are envisioning how to make them a part of their life. They can put a reminder into their phone or schedule a time to expand on the plan. If you don’t do something to capture the energy and enthusiasm you’ve created, it will dissipate as soon as they walk out and start checking messages.
With a single employee, you can build on their enthusiasm and commitment to create an action plan to move forward and make changes, or begin a new initiative. You’ve listened closely to their needs, concerns, and aspirations; you’ve shown them what success will look like through examples and stories; now it’s time to support them as they create an action plan that is workable and exciting for them.
Influence isn’t a matter of standing at the podium or sitting in the comfortable chair on the power side of the desk; it is the ability to listen and observe, to connect to others on both an intellectual and emotional level; and to help them commit to the individual steps on the path that will lead them to personal and organizational success.