What Leaders Should Avoid Doing to Inspire Action

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In my business of helping presenters become more effective, I ran across Stephen Denning’s The Secret Language of Leadership: How Leaders Inspire Action through Narrative, which focuses on a number of mistakes people make, often referring to some which Al Gore committed during the 2000 election that put himself “in a position to lose the election by not understanding the language of leadership”. Whether you’re running for political office or just positioning yourself to win in business, avoid these mistakes.

  • Communicate Unfocused Goals. In the first 90 seconds of Gore’s presidential debate, he mentioned 11 government programs he wanted to change, including balancing the budget, paying down the debt, ensuring safe schools, increasing retirement security; as the debate proceeded, he mentioned man more. Contrast that to Clinton’s simple approach: “it’s the economy, stupid”.
  • Be Inauthentic and Lack Enthusiastic. Instead of getting excited about Gore’s true beliefs, he followed his political advisors to project a persona that they thought would appeal to people. He acknowledged that “I’m not a very exciting politician.” In contrast, when worked on An Inconvenient Truth: he projected his enthusiasm for what he really cares about: the environment.
  • Project Incongruent Body Language. All too often people’s body language – smirking at comments, grinning, doodling, watching your phone, etc. are communicating boredom and/or lack of interest.
  • Misread the audience. How interested is the audience in listening to you – at this time or at all? If they’re resistant, uninterested or unexcited by your message, you and/or your company, the longer you go the more you will lose your audience
  • Lack of Narrative Intelligence. To enable your audience to enroll other people in the final decision to take action, make sure that they person to they can repeat it to others. That means identifying what’s irrelevant to the core message and deleting it before it becomes distractive clutter.
  • Be credible. Don’t exaggerate to the point where you no longer sound credible. Politicians are well known for stretching the truth, and leaving out important qualifiers; and when the audience catches on, it can destroy their credibility.
  • Misdirect Attention. Stories need to target your core issue (often problem and solution) that you’re focused on. When the details raise non-related issues they draw attention away from the central theme, and reduce impact. For instance, too often people open with poor jokes and the first piece of feedback from people after hearing the presentation is that the joke was awful.
  • Fail to Make an Emotional Connection. Without an emotional connection to your audience’s desire for a different future, the audience may not only ignore your request but actually resist it.They need to grasp “what’s in it for them” and not feel that you’re advocating change is for your own benefit.

Have you seen leaders make these mistakes? How has it affected their presentations? Share your experiences, And make sure you don’t make them.

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