Leaders motivate and inspire people to create change. How? Often by what they say and by how they say it.
In this book, “Leadership – A Force for Change (The Free Press, 1990),” John Kotter – Professor Emeritus from Harvard University described a four-step model by which leaders impact the people around them and ultimately change the world. The four steps include 1) Establishing a direction; 2) Aligning people; 3) Motivating and Inspiring; and 4) Creating change.
Can you think of anyone that you would consider to be a leader for whom Kotter’s model doesn’t fit? Chances are, you won’t. Why? Because the four steps describe what separates leaders from followers.
While it’s true that leaders motivate and inspire people to create change, a leader’s real power is in aligning people. By “aligning people,” Kotter is describing how to connect people with a purpose.
Here’s an example. Shortly after President John F. Kennedy announced the country’s intentions to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade (the 1960’s), he visited people throughout the United States to motivate and inspire them. When he reached NASA, he soon realized that the leaders at NASA already largely accomplished that.
One story in particular makes this point meaningfully and memorably.
After talking with several employees during his visit to NASA, the president approached an older man holding a utility broom. He introduced himself.
“Hi, I’m John Kennedy. What’s your name? The man with the broom told him. President Kennedy then asked, “What do you do here at NASA?” clearly expecting the man to answer with his job title and job duties – “I’m a janitor and I help clean this section of NASA.” He didn’t. He answered very differently. He said, “Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”
Someone at NASA, most likely the janitor’s supervisor, connected that NASA employee to a purpose. The connection made him feel proud, worthwhile, gave him a sense of purpose and inspired him to work his best for the good of the country, if not the entire world.
Leadership is about connecting people with a purpose. In Kotter’s terms, it’s about aligning people before you can motivate and inspire them. This means that your talking points for leadership should focus on why people should listen to you in the first place; why they should keep listening, what you want them to remember, and ultimately, what you want them to do. Give them these reasons, and you, as leaders do so effectively, will motivate and inspire them.