ISSN 1834-4933. Published by Geoff Kelly, Kelly Strategic Influence
Wisdom to lead minds:
“Action springs out of what we fundamentally desire…first, arouse in the other
person an eager want.”
Harry A. Overstreet
How the fairy tales in our own minds prevent us persuading other
One of the main reasons leaders and organisations fail to win the support they need is that they don’t understand those they are trying to influence. Often they assume interest and support from the most shallow of indicators.
What looks like common sense from one point of view often is simply a false and costly assumption.
For example, in the late 1970s and early 1980s Australian minerals industry leaders became frustrated by increasing environmental criticism. Broad sections of the community seemed not to understand the value of the industry for job creation, export revenue and infrastructure development in remote areas.
In their eyes, this lack of context prevented people from seeing what they saw as modest environmental disturbance as being reasonable for the benefit gained.
So they developed an advertising campaign supported by public relations, networking and other initiatives to show people the good the industry was doing for the nation’s benefit. The theme was “Mining is the backbone of the country.”
It was designed to highlight for mostly city people the great benefits that they were enjoying from distant and largely out of sight activities.
Several years and several million dollars later they were forced to admit the campaign had failed. They were even more frustrated, as they felt the campaign’s catchy jungle, strong content and frequency deserved better.
They asked leading social researcher Hugh Mackay to examine and recommend remedial action. His report was long, but in a nutshell he skewered their assumption as the problem. He told these leaders that Australians already knew that they benefited from a strong minerals industry. However, they found increasingly unacceptable how the industry managed its outcomes, particularly in the way it disturbed the environment. So it wouldn’t matter how much evidence the industry provided about its value, that wasn’t the thing. It needed to address head on the concerns that people had, not try to balance them with good performance and benefits in other areas.
Successful leaders know different. They work hard to understand those whose support they need, and are cautious of easy assumptions. When Winston Churchill was asked if he was impressed that 10,000 people had turned up to hear him speak, he replied “No – because ten times as many would come to see me hanged.” Sure, Churchill was famous for his quick wit, but it was wit that betrayed a meticulous study of people and what moved them to action.
They know the more you know about someone or a specific group of people, the easier it is to get their attention, persuade them to accept an idea, and even to take some action. This is true in social relationships, in all aspects of business and politics, international diplomacy and everywhere people want others to support them.
The reason is that in communication it is what the listener does with the message that counts, not what the message does to the listener. Messages, stories, speeches, advertisements that move people deeply do not do so because they have intrinsic power.
They only do so because they touch an audience’s most desired wants, their most cherished values and sometimes their basest prejudices. They evoke responses that are already in the audience members, they don’t put them there.
Legendary US copywriter Robert Collier wrote early last century that to persuade anyone of anything, you must first enter the conversation already taking place in their minds. Great leaders know this, and that is what allows them to involve large numbers of people with their ideas.
Most leaders and communicators lack this understanding, and that explains why so many web sites, speeches, media releases, advertisements and other communications relentlessly scream about themselves or about benefits they assume their targets should want. These are today’s Emperors without Clothes; they are falsely reassured by their own core messages and beliefs, and oblivious to their persuasive impotency.
So how do effective leaders build the insights necessary to engage, persuade and lead others? They collect information carefully. They observe people in their own environments. They listen with deliberate openness. They read, research and analyse.
And above all, they empathise.
They make this a continuous act of will until it becomes a habit. And that is what separates them from the ineffective majority. It is not that they are cleverer, or quicker, or have better ideas. The difference is that they make the effort until it is no longer an effort, and then they make the difference that others can only envy.
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
© 2006 Geoff Kelly All rights reserved.
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