Published by Geoff Kelly, Kelly Strategic Influence
Wisdom to lead minds:
"If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse; however, if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming,
I help you become that."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
1749-1832, Author and Philosopher
Why Almost Every Leader is Wrong about Core Messages
When it comes to winning hearts and minds to an idea, most leaders
and communicators are not even playing on the right field. They
remain fixated on core messages largely about their organisations,
seemingly oblivious to their irrelevance.
Some are aware they are not cutting through, but the temptation
is to blame the receiver for just not getting it. And their
remedy? Usually they shout louder and pump out more messages
about themselves. Try that at your next cocktail party or
social mixer and see how effective it is. Then consider that it
works no better in the wider worlds of government and business.
The consequence is that too many sound ideas are dying, and too
many good organisations and leaders are failing to get the support
and results they deserve.
The full answer is more than would fit into this article. However,
we have enough space to make a useful start, so here it is in a
First, leaders can’t lead unless they get the attention of others.
And in the world’s most over-communicated society in history,
failing to get attention is the rock that wrecks many leadership
They don’t realise that the attention and decision-making functions
of the human brain are determined by the same parts of the brain
that evolved in the age of dinosaurs. Despite hundreds of thousands
of years of human evolution, the old brain (specifically the amygdala)
rules so much of our actions and behaviour.
This is what determines what we pay attention to. Period. It gets
confused and slowed down by the abstract and the complex. And it pays
no attention at all unless it can immediately see what’s in it for me.
So what chance do we have with core messages that are abstract,
complex and all about the sender?
Let me give you an example from one financial institution’s corporate
social responsibility program: “We care about crime in low socio-economic
communities and in partnership with major non Government organisations
we are proud we are making a difference in their lives.”
Compare that with “Trouble loves kids with no job prospects. Last year
we helped 117 young people from low income families finish a degree or
trade. This year helping almost 150 still doesn’t seem enough.”
The amygdala is expert at screening out everything that doesn’t directly
interest it, including stuff that is abstract, complex and about someone
else. Messages like the first one above both confuse it and slow it down,
so in the blink of an eye the amygdala decides to ignore them. But it
has laser focus on the bright shiny object that is concrete, simple and
directly addresses its current desires and interests.
Of course, keeping attention usually requires more than one or even a few
simple messages. It’s a rare piece of corporate poetry that carries that
kind of power. So, effective leaders and communicators develop a series
of messages, nuggets, and other fascinations that keep building and
Second, at some point leaders must convert this attention and curiosity
to some desired action or support. Essentially this requires that people
come to see their world or the issue at hand differently.
As much as we would like a silver bullet solution, moving people to
support and action usually requires more than a few magic messages.
Strong messages can start this process, but the heavy lifting needs to
come from more highly crafted forms of communication. We will cover some
of these in future issues.
Right now ask yourself: “Are we getting the attention of those most
important to us? When they hear our messages, are they asking to know more?”
If you are getting attention, are you keeping it and building it? And if
you don’t know, what can you do to find out?
More next month...
Geoff Kelly works with leaders who are frustrated that others don't fully support their ideas and strategies. He mainly works with corporate leaders around the world, but also leaders in Government and Not for Profit. He is also a popular speaker on this and related subjects. See www.kellystrategicinfluence.com.au, email [email protected] or call +613 9678 9218 for more information
© 2009-2010 Geoff Kelly All rights reserved.
You are free to use material from the Leading Minds eZine in whole or in part, as long as you include complete attribution, including live web site link. Please also notify me where the material will appear. The attribution should read: "By Geoff Kelly of Kelly Strategic Influence. Please visit Geoff's web site at www.kellystrategicinfluence.com.au for additional articles and resources on earning support for your ideas and strategies." (Make sure the link is live if placed in an eZine or in a web site.)