Introduction to Leading People
Why is Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech considered one of the one hundred best speeches in American history? Because King provided his audience with a vision of the future and a clear set of expectations for what fulfilling the dream would mean to members of the audience, and he spoke with a passion that moved the audience and changed behaviors.
As a leader, you must articulate a vision of your organization’s future and then motivate others to share it—you can’t be their leader if you don’t know where you are taking them. You don’t have to be as eloquent as Dr. King but note how his dream wasn’t too specific—it left room in the minds of his followers to fill in the details. Had Moses gone into too much detail about property boundaries, local governance, and water rights, he could never have led the Jews to escape from Egypt to the promised land.
Like Teddy Roosevelt leading the charge on horseback and foot in the battle for San Juan Hill, you need to translate and communicate what you deeply believe in order to enlist the hearts of your employees and instill them with a shared vision and commitment—that’s the first step in changing behaviors.
You demonstrate through your own behavior that you believe in the vision, and you assist them in aligning their behavior and beliefs to reach the same destination. You don’t have to be Hannibal leading his troops over the Alps—this works for average people too.
Software salesman Todd Beamer called out, “Let’s roll” to lead his fellow passengers on flight 93 in the first counter-attack on terrorism after the Pentagon and Twin Towers strike. In a 1999 Little Rock, Arkansas, runway incident, flight 1420 passengers were led to safety shortly before the plane exploded by members of a college choir.
Employees want to be inspired, and they appreciate being part of a larger purpose.