The ancient Greeks had a saying: “When Aschines speaks, the people say, ‘How well he speaks,’ but when Demosthenes speaks, the people say, ‘Let’s march against Philip!'”.
To get the best results as a leader, the people you lead should be saying in one way or the other after you speak, “Let’s march!”
When you speak to people as a leader, it’s not what you say that’s really important, what’s important is the action people take after you have had your say. And if you are not having the people you lead take the right action, you’re giving short shrift to your leadership, their trust in you, and their desire to take action for you.
Here are the 8 ways of right action to get people marching in the right way for the right purpose at the right time in the right direction.
Action must be:
(1) PHYSICAL. Action is not what the audience thinks or feels. It is what the audience actually does. Usually, the audience takes action with their feet and hands and tools. When thinking of what action you want your audience to take, imagine their actually doing something physical, and you are on track. Getting your audience to take right action involves challenging them to do one specific thing. When Ronald Reagan said in his speech at the Berlin Wall, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” he was delivering a call-to-action that was a stunning turning point in the Cold War. In your day to day leadership activities, you are probably not meeting such daunting challenges as winning a war, but you can use the principle to raise the effectiveness of your leadership to much higher levels.
(2) PURPOSEFUL. People who take action are useless to an organization. It is only those people who take action for results who are useful. Make sure their action has purpose. The secret of success is constancy of purpose. When your audience does take action, they should know exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it. Purpose in leadership talk has three aspects: reason, feeling and awareness. People should understand the rational justification for the action; they should have an emotional commitment to the action; and be fully mindful that they are taking action.
(3) HONEST. If you trick people into taking action or lie to get them to take action, you’ll damage that element on which all motivation is based, trust. Afterward, you may be able to order them to do a job, but you will never motivate them. Be honest with yourself in developing your call-to-action. Marcus Aurelius said, “Never esteem anything as an advantage to you that will make you break your word or lose your self-respect.” Be honest with them in challenging them to act. I do not recommend this merely on trustworthy grounds but on eminently practical ones as well. After all, we do not know how good we are as leaders unless we are challenging the people to be better than they think they are. And they cannot be persuaded to accept that challenge if they think we’re deceiving them or that you are deceiving yourself.
(4) MEANINGFUL. Action gives meaning to the emotion your audience feels. Emotion alone cannot get results. It’s action that gets results. Action validates emotion, and vice versa.
Leaders who find little meaning in their jobs or the results associated with those jobs, shouldn’t be leaders, or they should change jobs and/or results. Most leaders understand this. But few leaders understand that meaning also involves the jobs of the people they are leading and the attitudes of those people toward those jobs and the results the jobs aim for.
Your cause should be meaningful to the people who must carry it out. If it is only your cause and not their cause, the action they take will get insufficient results. Your cause will be meaningful to them when that actions they take to meet the challenges of that cause are solving the problems of THEIR needs. So, before you challenge them to take action, identify their needs and the problem solving actions.
(5) LINKED TO NEED. The people’s needs are their reality. If you are an order leader, you clearly do not have to know their needs. You simply exhibit a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. But if you want to motivate them to take action, you need to understand that reality. Because their motivation is not your choice, it’s their choice. Your role is to communicate, their role is to motivate, to motivate themselves. It’s their choice. It’s not yours. So their needs are not only their reality, in the leadership equation, their needs are the only reality. They don’t care about your needs. They don’t care about your reality. They only care about their reality. Tie the action you want them to take to THEIR NEEDS, not yours. Which means of course that you have to clearly identify their needs.
(6) URGENT: Patience is a virtue, but it can also be a tender trap. Urgency is a results-multiplier. A Roman centurion said the secret to instilling urgency in the troops was summed up in two words, “hit them.” His credo lives today in the order leader — not necessarily in a physical sense but more importantly in a psychological sense. But trying to gain urgency through “hit them” is far less effective than having urgency come from the people’s internal motivation. Here’s a process to have people take urgent action: IDENTIFY THEIR NEEDS, SEE THE PROBLEMS IN THEIR NEEDS, AND HAVE THEIR TAKING ACTION PROVIDE SOLUTIONS TO THOSE PROBLEMS.
For instance, in a police academy, an instructor came into the room with a note that said CLEAR OUT THIS ROOM IMMEDIATELY. The first cadet ordered his colleagues out. A few cadets left but most stayed. The instructor handed the note to a second cadet who pleaded for his classmates to leave. Again, a few left but most stayed. Finally, the instructor gave the note to a third cadet. This cadet understood how to identify needs and have people take action to solve those needs. He said two words, which emptied the room. “Lunch break!”
People are always willing to take ardent action to solve the problems of their needs. The question is can you identify those needs. Once you do, you hare half way home to getting them to take such action.
(7) GIVEN A DEADLINE: All action you have people take must have a deadline. Otherwise, it might become a low priority for them, and they will not be especially urged to take it. Be constantly monitoring yourself when motivating people to take action by asking, “Have I a put a deadline to this action?” If you haven’t, do it.
(8) FED BACK: True motivation isn’t what the people do in your sight. True motivation is what they do after they have left your sight. Many leaders get the “head fake” from the people they’re leading — their nodding their heads and saying, “Yes,” face-to-face with the leader; but inside saying, “No.” When they leave your presence, they do what they want, not what you want. Make sure that the action you challenge them to take is fed back to you, so that you are aware — and they are aware that you are aware — of that action.
Leaders do nothing more important than get results, and results come from people taking action.
The trouble is, most leaders have people get a fraction of the potential results because these leaders misunderstand what action really is — and in that misunderstanding misapply and misuse it.
When speaking to people, keep the eight ways of right action in mind so people take the right action to achieve the right results.
2006 © The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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