As a leader, a part of your role is to inspire people to take action – that is, when they really engage both personally and emotionally with the purpose that the organisation/team is trying to achieve, and will give their best.
Great leaders inspire by conveying a sense of purpose. People will follow you if you talk and act from the perspective of why you are trying to achieve what you are trying to achieve. Inspirational leaders set out the why, and action-oriented people work out how to implement it.
“Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them. People are either motivated or not. Unless you give motivated people something to believe in, something bigger than their job to walk towards, they will motivate themselves to find a new job and you’ll be stuck with whoever is left.”
Most companies can define what they do. They can usually explain how they do it and what differentiates them. However, only a select few can identify their Why. Most leaders start with What to do and move on to How to do it, never even getting to Why do it.
By contrast, Simon Sinek suggests that you think, act and communicate from an inside-out perspective, as shown on the diagram below.
- WHY: Your vision and core purpose. Why does your organisation exist? What’s the purpose of it? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? What do you believe? What are your values? What motivates you as a person? What motivates each of your employees?
- HOW: Implementation. What is special about your organisation? What’s unique and desirable about your product or service? What’s your USP/value proposition?
- WHAT: What product or service do you sell? What you actually do?
The brain plays a big part in this! The neocortex is the rational and analytical part of the brain that controls language – it relates to What you want people to do.
The limbic system is the emotional part of the brain that controls behaviour and is responsible for decision-making – it relates to Why they should do it. So, interestingly our emotions are responsible for our decisions, and not logic.
When people make complex decisions, they rely on instinct. Neuroscientist, Richard Restak, writing in The Naked Brain, says that people relying on data to make decisions take more time and over-analyse the situation, while gut decisions “tend to be faster, high-quality decisions.”
For more information about the brain, take a look at my article Emotion In the workplace.
In addition to inspiring people to act, it’s also useful to consider what approach to change is held by your team members and stakeholders. Some people are motivated by being the first to adopt something whilst others will hold back until there is a minority moving in a certain direction.
Everett Rogers, in his book Diffusion of Innovations (in which he produced a theory of the adoption of innovations among individuals and organisations) demonstrates this neatly in a bell curve, as shown below.
If you are leading change and trying to inspire people to move in a certain direction, first you need to focus on:
- 2.5% innovators
- 13.5% early adopters
Get those people on board and you’ll reach a tipping point where you are more likely to get the next tranche of people on board:
- 34% buy-in when a minority have already bought in
- 34% late majority follow-on
The final 16% may never get on board, no matter what you do, and you’ll then need to decide what to do about them.
For more information, please see Wikipedia/Diffusion of Innovations
Men wanted – appealing to the Why
When polar explorer Ernest Shackleton was recruiting for his Endurance expedition (1914-17), it’s commonly reported that he placed this ad that drew plenty of applicants because it appeals to the ‘why’.
Summary and further information
So, in summary, inspire people to act by talking to the How in a way that motivates them personally – how does what you want to achieve connect with their values, personality and beliefs? Remember when talking to people that one size fits one – we’re all different and motivated by different things.
To get things moving, hone in on those people who like to try things out and be the first. Get those on board, and then focus on the next wave until you get enough people to create the momentum you need.
Much of this month’s article is based on the work of Simon Sinek. For more information, you can watch his TEDx talk here:
If this topic interests you, you might also like to read my articles about:
- Executive presence
- Leadership agility (People often tell me this model is the most valuable part of the workshops I run when leading change programmes)
How to create an environment where you can be your best self.