Have you ever wondered how great leaders inspire people to achieve a goal? Some leaders are able to mobilize others in a way that infuses them with a profound sense of purpose. Here’s how they do it.
The core function of leadership is to achieve specific goals. To move people toward a goal, there are three questions that a leader must answer to create momentum — what, why, and how.
Here’s a simple, practical, and clear leadership process that’s been proven time and again in real world leadership situations.
First Define What
The primary responsibility of a leader is to clearly define “what.” What is the objective?
How do you know when you’ve achieved it? What are the criteria that define success?
As a leader, you should describe the goal in visual, vivid terms so your people can see the objective in their own minds. When your team is able to create this mental picture of what their supposed to accomplish, it makes the goal real. They start to connect their own emotions to the goal. With a clear mental picture of the goal, it’s as if they can look out on the horizon and see themselves getting closer to the mark as their work progresses.
You may have been exposed to some YouTube leadership “gurus” who say that everything begins with why not what. I think they’re confusing two significantly different tasks. By defining your why as the initial leadership step, the “gurus” often mean that you should define your personal belief system first. I agree, but why not just say that?
Defining your belief system is a different problem than organizing a team toward a goal. It’s certainly essential that leaders define their personal constitution. It’s an important exercise in developing self-awareness and provides even greater organizational benefits.
Knowing what you believe and why you believe it gives everyone a greater sense of mission. Declaring what you believe to your team will also give them a sense of confidence in who you are as a person. Just be darn careful to never violate your own stated beliefs.
Have you ever pulled a cracker out of the package thinking it was solid? Then just as you start spreading some cream cheese on it, it blows up into a million pieces. That’s how instantly and completely your credibility will crumble if you violate your professed beliefs.
Defining core beliefs is an important strategic task. But rest assured, in the everyday leadership trenches, your people will be looking for you to first point them toward “what.” If you don’t believe me, try this.
Picture yourself standing in front of a group of people you’re trying to lead. Only, you’re constrained to start the conversation by talking about why without first defining the objective. The next question on everyone’s mind will likely be “Why, what?”
“Why” can’t really be defined without first addressing “what” because why literally means, “for what.”
Start the leadership process of inspiring your team by defining what as the first step. They’ll be grateful for your clarity.
Next Define Why
The leader’s next responsibility is getting people to profoundly believe that achieving the goal is a worthy investment of their time and effort. This is where why becomes a powerful tool.
When done properly, the definition of why becomes the sense of purpose that inspires a team to success. Why provides justification for the goal. More importantly, why also provides inspiration for the people you lead. Defining why provides the leader with a pivotal opportunity to mix emotion with the goal.
The leader’s job is to create infectious enthusiasm. The leader’s energy and confidence transmitted to others can transform mere performers into zealots.
Why is usually defined by phrases that start with “because.” Research has shown how potently persuasive this is. The power of because is fully explained in Robert Cialdini’s book Influence. When people furnish the reason why something needs to happen, the compliance rate to a request shoots through the ceiling. Great leaders know this.
You can turbo-boost your why with colorful descriptions of what life will be like post goal-achievement. What will everyone gain? How will it change your life? How will it positively impact the lives of others? Why is the active ingredient that catalyzes vigorous pursuit of a goal. Through the brilliant definition of why, your people will crush any task.
Then Define “How”
Finally, the leader works with his or her team to develop the “how.” This is where great leaders shine like supernovas because they allow their teams to provide maximum input to how the goal should be achieved.
The secure, self-confident leader doesn’t feel compelled to have all the answers. In fact, it’s counter productive to try and dictate how everyone should do their job.
Research has shown that employee engagement increases dramatically if teams are allowed to define how for themselves to the greatest extent possible.
Leaders also know that how is only sufficiently defined through detailed planning and provisioning of resources. Leadership doesn’t end at goal setting and emotional pitches. Leaders know that goals are not realized unless an executable plan is put in place. Some say that goals without a plan are just dreams. I say they’re nightmares. If you’ve ever worked in an organization that didn’t know how to execute, you know what I’m talking about.
Don’t over-complicate leadership by yielding to fads that confuse people. Your team always needs to clearly know what the ultimate goal is. Crystallize what your pursuing and define it vividly. Next, provide an energizing why through transmission of emotion. Then work with your team to plan how the goal will be realized by executing an achievable plan.
By following this simple process, you’ll create highly motivated teams that know why they come to work everyday. This sense of purpose is the stuff of inspiration. You’ll be amazed at what your team can accomplish.