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John Baldoni
Leadership author

John Baldoni

John Baldoni is a leadership consultant, coach, and regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review online. His most recent book is Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up.

Make it personal

Q: This week's nuclear summit presents one of those difficult leadership challenge: focusing attention and resources on a low-probability problem that would be disastrous if it occurred. Global warming, 100-year floods, financial meltdowns are other examples. How can a leader fight the natural tendency among followers to put off dealing with what seem like such abstract and complicated threats?

The key to making long-term strategic goals immediate is to make them present and immediate. How do you do that? You make it personal.

Good leaders do this by appealing to the hearts and minds of their constituents. To connect you make the case for your argument by making it personal. So when it comes to issues such as global warming, nuclear disarmament or any other issue with far reaching consequences you communicate on a level that people can understand.

Every successful leader is at one level a master salesperson. You cannot rise to the top of any organization, or be elected to high office, without the ability to persuade others to your point of view. Such persuasion requires salesmanship, the ability to imbue your ideas with an immediacy that makes them easy to understand and ultimately easy to accept. Here are four ways to do this:

Appeal to the mind. Good arguments begin with solid facts. If you are expecting people to change their minds, and ultimately that is what all issues of consequence involve, you better have your facts straight. For example, one of the reasons that Bono has achieved success with his One campaign to address AIDS and poverty is that he can speak to government officials not merely as a celebrity but as one who has mastered the data points of his argument.

Appeal to common sense. Make numbers real.Too often leaders who fail to persuade others to their point of view are guilty of speaking in impersonal terms (statistics) when they need to connect their ideas to individuals (one person at a time). So if something costs a billion dollars, translate that expenditure per family, e.g. every American family paying $100 a year or $2 per week.

Appeal to the heart. Facts set the foundation for rational argument but when you are seeking to change minds, you need to connect with people on a personal level. For example, failure to ensure nuclear security means that terrorists get weapons that turn the scenarios that drive the plots of the hit TV show, 24, into nightmarish reality. That's an easy argument to make. The challenge is to do it honestly. Talk about the policies that must be adopted, the costs that will be incurred, and the safety of people that will result.

Appeal to our better nature. People like to be part of something larger than themselves, even when it involves sacrifice. This is the secret behind why people volunteer time and effort to community activities. When we seek true and lasting change, it does require sacrifice, but if you are going to ask people to sacrifice you need to make certain that what you are asking is worth it. Global warming becomes not simply a matter for governments; it becomes the duty of citizens to make responsible personal choices in how they use fossil fuels in homes, cars, and in household products.

Each of these appeals has their place and they do work, however, these very same techniques can be applied by those seeking to manipulate a point of view. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are adept at using facts, or opinions disguised as facts, to steer voters to their side. It is effective certainly, but it is one reason why so many people are turned off by politicians as well as political pundits. These folks do not seek to illuminate a point of view; they seek to manipulate it.

Accountability is the differentiator between manipulators and leaders. The former avoid it, the latter embrace it. And so leaders who persuade are those who know their facts, speak from the heart and ask us to make sacrifices for the good of all, not the benefit of a few.

By John Baldoni

 |  April 12, 2010; 2:19 PM ET
Category:  Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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