A leader’s job is to illuminate the path ahead. It’s vital to keep employees engaged and aligned with end goals on every project you undertake. And that challenge might be made easier–illuminated for you–by presentations specialist Nancy Duarte, who developed former U.S. vice-president Al Gore’s powerful climate change slide show, and colleague Patti Sanchez in their new book, Illuminate.
If you want to initiate change, your role is to be a torchbearer. That doesn’t involve just anticipating the future but shaping it. And, as we know, venturing into the future can be scary… for us, and those we lead.
“The desire to build something significant simmers inside torchbearers; how you communicate determines whether or not you achieve that goal. Leading people requires not only sensing change afoot, but imagining a brighter future and communicating it in a way that motivates others to follow you there,” she says.
There’s no map. Usually uncertainty grips the effort. It often feels like you’re at the bottom of a ravine and hoping to scale a mountain in the distance. You need to persuade people to sign on for the trek and keep them motivated along the way.
By Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez
Portfolio, 323 pages, $41.00
The book offers a generic map. It’s the five stages that every venture contains:
• Dream: The travellers face a choice of staying put or accepting they can play an important role in making your new dream come true.
• Leap: They have to accept that things won’t be the same and count the cost of the sacrifice before committing to the leap.
• Fight: Roadblocks inevitably arise that will test the torchbearer’s mettle. The travellers must boost their commitment and fight the opposition.
• Climb: The effort is focused on getting out of the pit they have fallen into. And it may not be a one-time thing. There may be a series of fighting and climbing intervals as obstacles continue.
• Arrive: With a last push the travellers make it to the destination and seize the rewards you have promised. They are celebrated for their efforts and buoyed by what was accomplished.
Essentially, those five stages reflect the typical structure of a story. In the beginning–Dream and Leap–a relatable and likeable hero jumps into an adventure. In the middle–Fight and Climb–the hero encounters seemingly insurmountable roadblocks that test resolve. And in the end–Arrive–the hero attains the object of desire and the journey transforms him or her. It’s The End, except usually there will be another dream and another saga.
It’s the classic story structure, but divided to fit what we experience in our workplace. And the authors advise us that at each juncture, torchbearers must listen carefully and empathetically to understand what co-travellers are feeling. “Listen empathetically to light the path,” they declare. And then consider, based on what you heard, two general approaches:
• Motivating communication to keep them going: When your co-travellers are energized and feeling adventurous about pursuing your dream, you want to keep them uplifted with extra encouragement to stay engaged.
• Warning communication if they get stuck: You need to advise them about the possible negative outcomes of staying put or straying from the course, trying to push them away from the resistance that is forming.
The torchbearer’s toolkit has four elements: You can deliver speeches, tell stories, hold ceremonies, and use symbols. Each tool can be deployed in any of the five stages. And you might use it to motivate or to warn. That may seem overwhelming but in fact the authors are illuminating the path with a richness and clarity that we had not seen before. At each stage, we can evaluate, after empathetically listening, which tool to use — a motivating speech here, a warning ceremony there, or whatever seems most appropriate. And they offer us a pull-out sheet in the book with all the choices explained. Here are some examples:
• Heed the Call story: Explain your epiphany in the dream stage with an anecdote to motivate others to join in, telling them how things could be different and the revelation transformed you. The opposite, a Neglect the Call story, serves as a warning, recounting a failure to see an opportunity or how you disregarded a threatening situation.
• Renunciation speech: In the leap phase, you acknowledge that some people still cling to the past. You will show in the talk why everyone must begin a new way of thinking. If, on the other hand, followers have a positive framework, a pursuit speech explains what action is required and why to embrace it.
• A battle speech: This stirs courage in the middle of the fight by describing the enemy’s damage. We saw it in Braveheart, when William Wallace launches into a passionate speech moments before battle to motivate his fellow Scots. An Underdog Speech admits you are losing the battle and may experience defeat. You acknowledge suffering and ask for more from followers. Churchill offered it famously with: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight on the fields and in the streets.”
• Heal Wounds ceremony: When Intel Corp customers were furious at the company for its decision to cancel the popular Pentium 4 chip, CEO Craig Barrett got down on his knees at an industry conference to beg forgiveness for the misstep. He was, in the Illuminate formulation, gathering in retreat to bond hearts before continuing the climb stage. The reverse would be a Renew Commitment ceremony, in which you re-examine goals, revise plans, and recommit to the finish the job.
• Victory speech: You reflect on the journey and relive the trials as you arrive at the destination. But there is also a Surrender speech, in which you throw in the towel, admit failure, and apologize. Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford, gave a victory speech in 2010 at an auto show. “It’s going really well… in the third quarter of last year all of the Ford operations around the world returned to profitability during the worst recession that we’ve ever had… We have a cost structure that allows us to make [our cars] and the profitability goes to the company so we can continue to invest in Ford… and not use our precious taxpayer money.”
Don Keough, president of Coca-Cola, gave a classic surrender speech after the company’s new formula drew a consumer backlash in 1985: “All of the time and money and skill poured into consumer research on the new Coca-Cola could not measure or reveal the depth and abiding emotional attachment to original Coca-Cola felt by so many people. They said they wanted the original taste of Coca-Cola back and they wanted it soon. Yesterday afternoon, after Coca-Cola Classic was announced, we received calls. The overwhelming reaction of consumers is one of excitement. Most of them are emotional, honestly, many in tears, but their message is the same. We’re glad to have an old friend back… Well, what does this really mean? It only means what we say – that our boss is the consumer.”
• Warning symbol: The metaphor of a burning platform is a powerful visual symbol against resisting change. Symbols can be visual, auditory, spatial, and physical.
The authors offer an impressive array of ceremonies: Immerse deeply and mourn endings in the Dream phase; pledge commitment and dismantle blockages in Leap; rally spirits and demystify threats in Fight; Renew commitment and heal wounds in Climb; and honour heroes and concede defeat in Arrive.
The book offers a far more elaborate, textured guide for your torchbearing quests. The authors offer case studies from business, the civil rights movement, and the charity world, but not government. However, the ideas are readily adaptable to a government executive’s work.