Leadership is manifested through action. Here are eight attributes of right action to guide your job and career performance.
By Brent Filson - 10/2004
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 you speak to people as a leader, it’s not what you say that’s really important, it’s what people do after you have had your say. And if you are not having the people you lead take the right action, you are giving short shrift to your leadership and their trust in you, and desire to take action for you.
The ancient Greeks had a saying that sums of this point. It went, "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, people should be saying in one way or the other after you speak, "Let’s march!"
Here are the 8 attributes of right action to get people marching in the right way for the right purpose at the right time in the right direction. By the way, wrong action is simply the negative aspect of each right action.
(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 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. Look at the action taken by Johnny Weissmuller, the Duke of Wellington, and Peter the Great in THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY section of this ezine. Their actions had 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 were are 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.
(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 identify their needs. I tackle such identification in depth in my books, DEFINING MOMENT: MOTIVATING PEOPLE TO TAKE ACTION and THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL. Check them out at your nearest library or purchase them at www.actionleadership.com.
(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) 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 "ole head fake" -- people agree with you face-to-face, nodding YES, but inside they disagree with you; so, 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.
For example, one of the best Leadership Talks I have witnessed involved no words being spoken at all. It engendered passionate action that was all the more passionate for being fed back to the leader.
My high school football team got behind 12-0 in the first half to a much inferior team. Going into the locker room under the stands, we expected our coach to give us a great motivational talk to get us ready for the second half. He was a master of such talks. But he didn’t show up. We waited. He didn’t come into the locker room. His absence motivated us more than any
10/2004© The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. – Celebrating 25 years of helping leaders of top companies worldwide achieve outstanding results every day. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get his FREE report "7 Steps To Leadership Mastery"