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In Leadership, The Eight Ways of Right Action

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

A great person attracts great people and knows how to hold them together. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


The ancient Greeks said: "When Machines 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, the people you lead should say in one way or the other after you speak, “Let's march!"

When you speak to people as a leader, it is not what you say that is important; what is important is the action people take after you have had your say. And if you are not having the people you lead, take the right action; you give a short shift to your leadership, their trust in you, and their desire to act for you. 

Here are the eight ways of right action to get people marching in the right way for the proper purpose at the right time in the right direction. 

Action must be:  


Action is not what the audience thinks or feels. It is what the audience does. Usually, the audience acts with their feet and hands, and tools. When thinking of what action you want your audience to take, imagine they are doing something physical, and you are on track. Getting your audience to take the proper steps takes challenging them to do one specific thing. Ronald Reagan said in his speech at the Berlin Wall, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" He delivered a call to action, a stunning turning point in the Cold War. You are not meeting daunting challenges like winning a war in your day-to-day leadership activities. Still, you can use the principle to raise the effectiveness of your leadership to higher levels. 


People who act are useless to an organization. It is only those people who work for beneficial results. Make sure their actions ha as purpose. The secret of success is the constancy of purpose. When your audience does act, they should know precisely 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, have an emotional commitment, and be fully mindful that they are acting.


If you trick people into acting or lie to get them to act, trust will damage that element on which all motivation is based. 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 eminently practical ones. We do not know how good we are as leaders unless we challenge the people to be better than they think. And they cannot be persuaded to accept that challenge if they think we are deceiving them or you are fooling yourself. 


Action gives meaning to the emotion your audience feels. Emotion alone cannot get results. It is an action that gets results. Action confirms sentiment and vice versa. 

Leaders who find little meaning in their jobs or results should not be leaders or change career developments. Most leaders understand this. But few leaders understand that meaning also involves the positions of the people they lead, their attitudes toward those jobs, and the results the jobs aim for.

Your cause should be meaningful to the people who must carry it out. If it is only your cause and not their cause, the action they take will get poor results. Your reason will be meaningful to them when those actions they take to meet the challenges of that cause are solving the problems of THEIR needs. So, before you challenge them to act, find their needs and the problem-solving actions. 


The people's needs are their reality. You do not have to know their needs to be an order leader. You show a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. But to motivate them to act, you need to understand that reality. Because their motivation is not your choice, it is their choice. Your role is to communicate, to motivate, to motivate themselves. It is their choice. It is not yours. So, their needs are not only their reality; in the leadership equation, their needs are the only reality. They do not care about your needs. They do not care about your existence. They only care about their truth. Tie the action you want them to take to THEIR NEEDS, not yours, which means you must find their needs. 


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 philosophy 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 is 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. Cadets left, but most stayed. The instructor handed the letter to a second cadet, who pleaded for his classmates to escape. Again, a few left, but most stayed. Finally, the instructor gave the note to a third cadet. This cadet understood how to show needs and have people 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 find those needs. Once you do, you are halfway home to get them to take such action. 


All actions 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 checking yourself when motivating people to act by asking, "Have I put a deadline on this action?"  If you have not, do it. 


Proper motivation is not what the people do in your sight. A valid reason is what they do after they have left your company. Many leaders get the "head-fake" from the people they are leading -- they are nodding their heads and saying, "Yes," face-to-face with the leader, but inside, saying, "No."  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. 

Leaders do nothing more important than getting results that come from people acting. 

The trouble is that most leaders have people get a fraction of the possible results because these leaders misunderstand what action is, and in that misunderstanding, misapply and misuse it.

When speaking to people, keep the eight ways of right action in mind, so people take the proper steps to achieve the right results.

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