An extraordinary feature of the human heart is its capacity to be profoundly changed in an instant.
Experiences that take place in the blink of an eye can propel individuals to radically alter their behavior and even the course of their lives.
Making use of this inherent quality of the heart can boost the effectiveness of your leadership. For it is in the realm of heartfelt words and actions that great leadership results accrue.
For the past 22 years, I’ve been teaching a process to leaders of all ranks and functions in top companies worldwide, a process that can help you take advantage of the heart’s great potential. It’s called The Leadership Talk.
The Leadership Talk is a way of making deep, emotional connections with the people for the purpose of achieving great results. Specifically, the Leadership Talk motivates people to choose to be your cause leaders. Only cause leaders can achieve great results consistently. To prompt people to take leadership for your cause, you must develop a special relationship with them. After all, one may do a task and get average results; but to get great results, one should take leadership of that task. Taking on leadership for your cause will require they embrace higher levels of expectations and achievements. So it is not a commitment people will make easily or lightly.
You’re giving a Leadership Talk — i.e, saying those things that will motivate the people to help lead your cause –- can take any length of time. I’ve seen people give a successful Talk in just a few minutes. I’ve seen people give a series of Talks over days and weeks before their audiences would make the choice. However, because of the heart’s extraordinary dynamics, a Leadership Talk can be done in a moment. Here are a few “instant Leadership Talks.” Note that sometimes no words were involved. Words are not absolutely necessary when it comes to giving Leadership Talks.
–Seeing abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison dragged with a rope down a Boston Street by a pro-slavery mob, Wendell Phillips became so outraged that he joined the abolitionist movement and became one of its most effective activists.
–When anti-French passions were sweeping England in the late 18th century, Voltaire who had been living in London for several years was set upon by an angry mob. “Hang the Frenchman! Hang him!” shouted the rabble.
Voltaire responded, “Men of England! You wish to hang me because I’m French? Isn’t NOT BEING BORN ENGLISH PUNISHMENT ENOUGH?” The crowd laughed and cheered and escorted him back to his quarters.
–Doug Collins, a member of the ’72 U.S. Olympic team that ultimately lost the gold medal on a disputed call to the Soviet Union, describes the dramatic moments at the end of the game.
“We’re losing by one. The Soviets have the ball. The clock’s running out. I hide behind the centre, bait a guy into throwing a pass, knock it loose and grab it. A Russian goes under me as I’m going up for the lay-up. I’m KO’d for a second. The coaches run to me. John Bach, one of the assistants, says, ‘We gotta get somebody to shoot the fouls.” But coach Hank Iba says, ‘If Doug can walk, he’ll shoot.’ That electrified me. The coach believed in me. I can’t even remember feeling any pressure. Three dribbles, spin the ball, toss it in, same as in my backyard. I hit ’em both and got the lead. I didn’t know what I was made of until then.”
–a General Electric client of mine told me this. “I was a young Naval officer reporting with many other new sailors aboard an aircraft carrier. The captain met us in a formation on the flight deck. He shook my hand and went down the line greeting many other sailors. I didn’t think anything of it until several weeks later when he passed by me in a passageway. He said, ‘Hi, Herb!’ I never forgot that. He remembered my name despite the fact that he had met scores of new sailors that day. It’s made a tremendous impact on me till this day.”
–In the first December of the first World War, Admiral Beatty received a radiogram from Sir George Warrender from his ship. “Scarborough being shelled. I am proceeding to Hull.” Lord Beatty replied, “Are you? I’m proceeding to Scarborough.”
–King Henry II and Thomas Becket, his archbishop of Canterbury, quarrelled for years over the rights and powers of the church and the state. When Becket remained steadfast in his excommunication of Henry’s appointees, the Bishops of London and Salibury, Henry, celebrating Christmas in Normandy, raged, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” Four knights, members of his household, answered the question. They crossed the Channel, rode to the Cantebury Cathedral and killed Becket at the altar. Eventually, the Cantebury Cathedral became a shrine, Becket was canonized, and Henry was made to atone by walking barefoot in a sack-cloth through the streets of Cantebury being flogged by eight monks with branches.
–At a public meeting during which he was censuring the recently dead Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev was interrupted by a voice in the crowd. “You were one of Stalin’s colleagues, why didn’t you stop him?”
“Who said that?” Stalin roared. There was a painful silence in the room.
“Now,” Khruschev said, in a quiet voice, “you know why.”
–-A year and a half after the battle of Yorktown, the Continental Army was becoming increasingly rebellious. Many of the troops hadn’t been paid in two years. Their promised pensions were not forthcoming. The troops and its officer corps contemplated overthrowing the Continental Congress and installing a military government. On the Ides of March in 1783, dozens of officers, representing every company in the army, met in a log hut to vote on taking this action when George Washington suddenly and unexpectedly walked in. He gave a speech denouncing the rebellious course they were on. But it wasn’t the speech that carried the day, it was the Leadership Talk at the end of the speech. Witnesses report that Washington’s speech left many officers unconvinced, and when he was finished, there was angry muttering among them. To bolster his case, the general pulled out a letter he recently received from a member of the Continental Congress. As he began reading, his usual confident air gave way to hesitancy. Then, unexpectedly, he drew out a spectacle case from his pocket. Few officers had ever seen him put on spectacles. Usually a severely formal man, he said, in a voice softened with an apology: “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.”
The deep, human, emotional power of that moment electrified the officers. Here was their commander who had never taken a furlough during his eight years of command, who had faced storms of musketry fire, who through his daring and intelligence had kept the Army intact in what most of the world thought was a lost cause, here was George Washington modestly asking his officers to bear with him in an all-too-human failing. It was an astonishing turning point.
As Maj. Samuel Shaw, who was present, put it in his journal, “There was something so natural, so unaffected in this appeal as rendered it superior to the most studied oratory. It forced its way to the heart, and you might see sensibility moisten every eye.”
After Washington left the hut, the officers unanimously voted to “continue to have unshaken confidence in the justice of the Congress and their country ….” The result was that the Continental Army disbanded without incident and thereby set in motion the relatively peaceful events that led to the creation of the Constitution.
There are countless more examples of a moment’s action or words having a great effect on people’s lives.
–Winston Churchill: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
–John Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you ….”
-–Muhammad Ali making history in 1967 at an Army recruiting station in Houston, Texas when he refused to take one step forward with a group of fellow inductees to indicate his willingness to be drafted, a refusal which led to his being stripped of his heavyweight championship title.
–Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont in 1095 exhorting the knights of Europe to set off on the First Crusade to capture the Holy Land, ending one of the most important speeches in all of history with this rousing cry: “Deus vult!” (“God wills it!”)
–Ronald Reagan: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
–Samuel Alito’s wife fleeing the hearing room in tears and prompting the Democratic leaders to sheathe their critical knives and end their verbal assault on the judge, paving the way for his appointment to the Supreme Court.
I am not saying that every instant Leadership Talk will work. The time has to be right, the situation right, the speaker right, and the audience right. However, when the right things come together, all it takes to trigger great change maybe — like a diamond cutter’s single blow precisely cleaving the gem — a momentary Leadership Talk. As we’ve seen, that Talk can be a few words, one word or no words at all.
Because of the heart’s capacity to be changed in an instant, the length of time you interact with someone to gain their heartfelt response is irrelevant. When you master The Leadership Talk, you can make that impact consistently with many people throughout your entire career.