Published by Geoff Kelly, Kelly Strategic Influence
Wisdom to lead minds:
“TThinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult
thing in the world.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Why Effective Leaders Obsess About Their Words and Actions
Most people today live in a self-imposed trance. They do this to protect themselves from a blizzard of self-serving messages blasted at them every minute of their waking day.
As customers, regulators, executives, employees and in myriad other roles, people live in
attention burn-out from a never-ending tsunami of information, relentless interruptions
to completing even simple tasks, and ranges of choice and options that defy comparison.
Every leader has the same basic task – to in some way change the way the world occurs to
others so that they act in support of an idea or strategy. The desired action might be to buy
a product or service, change a policy or regulation, or some other specific activity important
to the leader.
So how do leaders change the way others see their worlds? Despite all our advances in
technology it still comes back to two basic leadership weapons – the words they use and
the actions they take. It is as simple as that, and as difficult as that. And most leaders fail
because despite having heard this many times they either discard its importance or give
it too little attention.
A friend recently sent me an internal email from a global corporation attempting a major
transformation. Despite the apparent enthusiasm of top leaders, the transformation is
foundering on the rocks of staff and management cynicism and distrust.
Here is a sample from the email (names omitted). “I’m proud to be part of the team
asked to lead the way in making the transformational strategy integral to every employee’s
work,” (executive name) said. “This represents a true culture change for (company name).
Now is the time for every employee to take ownership of our strategy and our success.”
This seven paragraph email was populated by the mind dimming language so common in
corporate and government. It is glued together with pompous references to a
Transformation Traction Team, a Transformation Project Management Team
(neither team explained by role or composition), virtual learning maps, interactive learning maps,
wave one and wave two interactive briefing sessions, and many more clever sounding but
unexplained corporate fantasy toys. Yet there was no reference to the two most important things
staff wanted to know - why this was happening, and what specific consequences it would have
for staff members.
Compare this to how Mohandas Gandhi in 1920 described how he would lead the transformation
of an India dominated by British rule and arms. Here are some examples from his eight-paragraph
Doctrine of the Sword:
“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will…”
“Nonviolence in its dynamic condition means conscious suffering. It does not mean meek
submission to the will of the evil-doer, but it means the putting of one’s whole soul against the will
of the tyrant. Working under this law of our being, it is possible for a single individual to defy the
whole might of an unjust empire to save his honour, his religion, his soul, and lay the foundation
of that empire’s fall or regeneration.”
“And so I am not pleading for India to practice non-violence because it is weak. I want her to practice
non-violence being conscious of her strength and power…”
Compare the two examples – our unnamed executive and Gandhi – and you will see that while the
words of the former look impressive at first glance, they are dead and meaningless. By contrast,
Gandhi’s vision and intention are clear and powerful.
Another important dimension highlighted here is the quality of the thinking behind the words.
The struggling executive betrays half-baked and half-understood ideas in his buzz words and
lack of specific meanings and outcomes. Gandhi reveals a deep level of thinking and wisdom
forged both from understanding history and human nature, and from his insight of the potential
to ignite the change that would create the Indian nation.
Clarity of thought drives leadership impact – through clear and powerful words and actions. Where
we see deficiency in either, it is often due to poor quality thinking.
My friend tells me that leaders at the corporation in our example also fail the action test. While they
have employed consultants and set-up committees and created a cone of busyness around internal
communications of all kinds – their actions and decision are already failing them.
Gandhi by contrast is known even more for his actions than for his remarkable words. Despite his
small stature and lack of material resources, Gandhi stared down the Governments of South Africa,
Great Britain and the Punjab in many confrontations. He showed them he was prepared to suffer
more than they were, and by his many actions proved the power of his philosophy of
Words and actions bring a leader’s thinking to life and are the stuff of recruiting and leading others.
It takes good thinking to be a leader, then the faith in oneself and courage to follow-through with
the words and actions that will manifest the support you need. It is simple but difficult, and those
not up to the challenge best not apply.
The worlds of business and government have some wonderful leaders, but also are populated by
many who should have stayed home. Emperors wearing no clothes are transparent to all
Consider your words and actions by the results you are getting and ask yourself: “How can I improve
my thinking to improve my leadership?” And then “How can I my words and actions to bring this
thinking to life and earn the full support my ideas deserve?”
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.)