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Instant Leadership Talks

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

You manage things; you lead people. - Grace Murray Hopper

An extraordinary feature of the human heart is its ability to be profoundly changed instantly. Experiences that take place in the blink of an eye can propel individuals to radically alter their behavior and even the course of their lives. 

Using this inherent quality of the heart can boost the effectiveness of your leadership. Great leadership results gain in the realm of heartfelt words and actions.

For the past 15 years, I have taught leaders of all ranks and functions in top companies worldwide a process that can help you take advantage of the heart's enormous potential. It is called The Leadership Talk. 

The Leadership Talk is a way of making deep, emotional connections with the people to achieve impressive results. Specifically, the Leadership Talk motivates people to choose to be your cause leaders. Only cause leaders can achieve remarkable results consistently. To prompt people to take leadership for your cause, you must develop a special relationship with them. One may do a task and get average results, but one should take leadership of that task to get impressive results. Supervision for your cause will require them to embrace higher expectations and achievements. So, it is not a commitment people will make quickly or lightly. 

You are giving a Leadership Talk -- I. e saying those things that will motivate the people to help lead your cause - can take any length of time. I have seen people give a successful Talk in just minutes. I have seen people give a series of Talks over days and weeks before their audiences would make a choice. However, because of the heart's excellent dynamics, a Leadership Talk can be done in a moment. Here are "instant Leadership Talks." Note that sometimes no words were involved. Comments are not necessary when it comes to giving Leadership Talks. 

Seeing abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison dragged with a rope down Boston Street by a pro-slavery mob, Wendell Phillips became so outraged that he joined the abolitionist movement and became one of its most effective activists.

When anti-French passions swept England in the late 18th century, Voltaire, who had been living in London for years, was set upon by an angry mob. "Hang the Frenchman! Hang him!" shouted the rabble.

Voltaire responded, "Men of England! Do you wish to hang me because I am French? Isn't NOT BEING BORN ENGLISH PUNISHMENT ENOUGH?"  The crowd laughed and cheered and escorted him back to his quarters. 

Doug Collins, a member of the '72 U.S. Olympic team that lost the gold medal on a disputed call to the Soviet Union, describes the dramatic moments at the end of the game.

"We're losing by one. The Soviets have the ball. The clock's running out. I hide behind the center, bait a guy into throwing a pass, knock it loose and grab it. A Russian goes under me as I am going up for the lay-up. I am KO'd for a second. The coaches run to me. John Bach, one of the assistants, says, 'We got to get somebody to shoot the fouls."  But coach Hank Iba says, 'If Doug can walk, he'll shoot.' That electrified me. The coach believed in me. I cannot even remember feeling any pressure. Three dribbles, spin the ball, toss it in, same as in my backyard. I hit them both and got the lead. I didn't know what I was made of until then."

A client of mine told me this. "I was a young Naval officer reporting with many other new sailors aboard an aircraft carrier. The captain met us in formation on the flight deck. He shook my hand and went down the line greeting other sailors. I did not think anything of it until weeks later when he passed by me in a passageway. He said, ‘Hey, Herb!'  I never forgot that. He remembered my name even though he had met scores of new sailors that day. It's made a tremendous impact on me till this day."

In the first World War's first December, Admiral Beatty received a radiogram from Sir George Warrender on his ship. "Scarborough being shelled. I am proceeding to Hull."  Lord Beatty replied, "Are you? I'm proceeding to Scarborough."

King Henry II and Thomas Becket, his archbishop of Canterbury, quarreled over the churches and state’s rights and powers for years. When Becket remained steadfast in his ex-communication of Henry's appointees, the Bishops of London and Salisbury, Henry, celebrating Christmas in Normandy, raged, "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?"  Four knights, members of his household, answered the question. They crossed the Channel, rode to the Canterbury Cathedral, and killed Becket at the altar. Eventually, the Cantebury Cathedral became a shrine, Becket was canonized, and Henry was made to atone by walking barefoot in sackcloth through the streets of Canterbury, being flogged by eight monks with branches.

At a public meeting during which he was criticizing the recently dead Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev was interrupted by a voice in the crowd. "You were one of Stalin's colleagues. Why didn't you stop him?"

"Who said that?" Stalin roared. There was a painful silence in the room. 

"Now," Khruschev said, in a quiet voice, "you know why.”

A year and a half after the battle of Yorktown, the Continental Army became increasingly rebellious. The troops had not been paid in two years. Their promised pensions were not forthcoming. The brigades and its officer corps contemplated overthrowing the Continental Congress and installing a military government. On the Ides of March in 1783, dozens of officers being every company in the army met in a log hut to vote on taking this action when George Washington suddenly and unexpectedly walked in. He gave a speech denouncing the rebellious course they were on. But it was not the speech that carried the day; it was the Leadership Talk at the end of the lesson. Witnesses report that Washington's address left officers unconvinced, and when he was finished, there was angry muttering among them. To bolster his case, the general pulled out a recently received letter from a Continental Congress member. As he began reading, his usual confident air gave way to hesitancy. Then, unexpectedly, he drew out a spectacle case from his pocket. Few officers had ever seen him put on spectacles. Usually a severely formal man, he said, in a voice softened with an apology: "Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country."

The deep, human, emotional power of that moment electrified the officers. Here was their commander who had never taken leave during his eight years of command, who had faced storms of musketry fire, who, through his daring and intelligence, had kept the Army intact in what most of the world thought was a lost cause, here was George Washington modestly asking his officers to bear with him in an all-too-human failing.  It was a significant turning point.

As Maj. Samuel Shaw, who was present, put it in his journal, "There was something so natural, so unaffected in this appeal as rendered it superior to the most studied oratory. It forced its way to the heart, and you might see sensibility moisten every eye." 

After Washington left the hut, the officers unanimously voted to "continue to have unshaken confidence in the justice of the Congress and their country ...."  The result was that the Continental Army disbanded without incident and thereby set in motion the peaceful events that led to the creation of the Constitution. 

There are countless more examples of a moment's action or words significantly affecting people's lives. 

Winston Churchill: "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."

John Kennedy: "Ask not what your country can do for you ...."

Muhammad Ali made history in 1967 at an Army recruiting station in Houston, Texas, when he refused to take one step forward with a group of fellow inductees to show his willingness to be drafted. It led to Ali being stripped of his heavyweight championship title.

Pope Urban II, at the Council of Clermont in 1095, exhorted the knights of Europe to set off on the First Crusade to capture the Holy Land, ending one of the most critical speeches in all of history with this rousing cry: "Deus vult!" ("God wills it!")

Ronald Reagan: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Samuel Alito's wife fled the hearing room in tears and prompted the Democratic leaders to sheathe their critical knives and end their verbal assault on the judge, paving the way for his appointment to the Supreme Court. 

I am not saying that every instant Leadership Talk will work. The time must be correct, the situation right, the speaker right, and the audience right. However, when the right things come together, all it takes to trigger meaningful change may be a momentary Leadership Talk like a diamond cutter's single blow precisely cleaving the gem. We have seen that Talk can be a few words, one or none. 

Because the heart's ability is to be changed instantly, the length of time you interact with someone to gain their heartfelt response is irrelevant. When you master The Leadership Talk, you can make that impact consistently with people throughout your entire career.

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