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How to inspire and activate people

The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” 

With this powerful declaration, Steve Jobs and Apple Inc. catalyzed a movement. And each time Jobs took center stage to launch a new product, the people of the world seemed to stop what they were doing and listen to his vision of the future.

Just like Jobs, you as a leader have the same capacity not only to foresee what is imminent and invent a creative initiative, but to also motivate those around you, buoy them up and help implement your vision.

Leaders aren’t just the people at the top of the organizational chart. They are those who can see a better opportunity and rally people to reach it. Whether you’re an executive, entrepreneur, or individual contributor, you have the power to sense when change is occurring. Leaders can choose to embrace change or ignore it — but they cannot stop it. When a leader chooses not to change, the company simply evolves past him.  To thrive, a leader must continually reinvent by imagining and implementing new plans and programs.

Communication experts Nancy Duarte and Patty Sanchez’s book Illuminate was largely inspired by leaders they endearingly label “Torchbearers.” These are leaders who envision new possibilities. They “light the path” as they set out to change the world and bring similarly minded “travelers” on the journey along with them. They deliver speeches, tell stories, hold and use symbols — weapons that can be employed to affect what people think, feel and do as they move through what the authors describe as the “five stages of a venture”: dream, leap, fight, climb, and arrive.

The tome contains rich case studies based on firsthand knowledge and insight.  Each of the cases covers an extensive narrative and quotes that make the study come alive. Some of the most powerful narratives deal with how different organizations handled catastrophes: how Coke reversed its devastating choice to abandon Classic Coke; how Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, talked to her workers when the organization needed to recall faulty ignition switches that had caused deaths; when PeopleSoft was taken over by Oracle, which pushed employees to turn the company signage into an improvised memorial.

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Illuminate arms leaders with the same communication tools that super chiefs like Jobs, Howard Schultz, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used to move people. It lays out a plan to guide you on how to lead people using speeches, stories, ceremonies, and symbols. By using the power of persuasive communication, Duarte and Sanchez suggest how you, too, can turn your idea into a movement:

Stage 1 – Dream: Moment of Inspiration. You kick off a vision, initiative or product, which sets in motion a new season of transformation. People need to understand and find inspiration for the journey ahead. The leader describes the current state (what is) and the risks of maintaining the status quo. He then paints a new picture of the way out that leads to a brighter future (what could be).  He explains the beginnings of the company and envisions what’s possible by stimulating the years ahead in a way that opens people’s hearts and minds.

Stage 2 – Leap: Moment of Decision. Now is the time for people to commit to change. You need them to agree to take on new responsibilities and see the venture through to the end. The leader explains the action required and why people should embrace it. He describes the sacrifices that need to be made and explains the danger of latching on to old ways.

Stage 3 – Fight: Moment of Bravery.  When the battle looms, people need to rally so they are emboldened by strength in numbers. A battle cry helps prepare for the fight ahead. The leader stirs courage by describing the damage done by the enemy, and warns of potential continued harm. He shares the feeling and the look of being overtaken by the competition as he talks about winning against all odds.

Stage 4 – Climb: Moment of Endurance. The journey is bigger and longer than anticipated, so the enthusiasm starts to wane. People are losing sight of why they started this journey in the first place and need help on how to strengthen their resolve to finish.  The leader recognizes small wins and acknowledges the requirements that have been completed. He talks about persistence, about wandering or giving up the fight. He reexamines goals, revises plans and recommits to finish the job.

Stage 5 – Arrive: Moment of Reflection. You’ve arrived! You and your people have met a milestone or crossed the finish line, and it is time to declare small and big wins. Afford your team opportunities to bask in their accomplishments and be recognized. The leader reflects on the journey, relives trials and triumphs to show how far the team has come, and shares the sweet taste of success. He believes that if you take care of your people, you’ll have them as your warriors for life.

Stage 6 – Re-Dream: Moment of Realization. Just when you’ve gotten everyone all settled into the reality of your first vision that started the team’s journey, you know you can’t settle. You can’t get lazy and complacent. You can’t stop dreaming. Prepare for what’s next, determine the vision that will take your team to the next adventure, celebrate what you’ve achieved, have a celebratory feast, gather your preparations for battle, and begin again.

Illuminate underscores that change leadership is indeed difficult to handle, especially if the one leading doesn’t have the power to communicate and connect. But it provides a clear roadmap and a comprehensive communication tool kit that can assist any leader in learning how to inspire and activate people.

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