Management Matters: Shedding a New Light

We used to call it a paradigm shift. Today, we call it changing perspective. Whatever label you give it, getting others to look at things in a new light, and change what they do, is without a doubt leadership skill number one.

And with good reason: Why else do we need leaders, if not to clarify where we should be going—as a group—and help us get there? Especially if the direction is new and one we find unsettling. In other words, good leaders are first and foremost mental experts—masters of the mind—who know how to influence people.

According to Chip and Dan Heath, in their recent book Made to Stick (Random House, 2007; $24.95), there are several things you can do to make your ideas stick so that they are understood, remembered, and have a lasting impact.

1. Keep your idea simple, When you're trying to influence others, avoid the trap of overexplaining your ideas. Why? Every idea that you are trying to get across runs up against a complex network of ideas that people already have in their heads. If you overcomplicate things with an excess of information, people will naturally resist what you're trying to get across. Every time I listen to effective leaders speak, I'm impressed by the simplicity of their discourse. The message is uncomplicated and gets repeated over and over again. To some, it may seem like a dumbing down of the issue, but effective leaders understand that even small changes require a large dose of simplicity.

2. Keep your explanation concrete. A simple idea can be expressed in either an abstract or concrete way.

Talking in the abstract almost always guarantees that you will lose your audience. You're operating several levels above where they live. The opposite tack is more effective: Explain the idea in a down-to-earth way. Use props, tell stories, and paint word pictures. Do something unexpected. Surprise the listener. If you can dramatize the message, so much the better.

3. Appeal to emotions. The most effective leaders I know tell stories that touch the hearts of their audience. Often the story is personal. It's about what they themselves have experienced. This invites the audience to respond on a personal level, too. It's much easier to influence others to think and act differently if you can get them to care about what's being communicated.

If they can feel something powerful, they will be more prone to act on it. Remember that behavior always follows feelings—almost never ideas.

So to summarize: If you want to influence others to think and act in new ways—the number-one job of leaders—make sure you communicate with them in simple, concrete, and emotional ways. This will guarantee that your ideas will stick with them and make a difference in their daily performance.

Talk a Good Game
"You are already telling stories about who you are, why you are here, what you envision, value, teach, and know about other's secret thoughts—the problem is that you haven't realized how much your stories matter," writes Annette Simmons in her book, Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins: How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate with Power and Impact (AMACON, 2007; $22.00). Using anecdotes and step-by-step exercises, Simmons identifies six important types of stories—including Who-am-I Stories, Values-in-action Stories, and Teaching Stories&151;and shows the reader how to tell them in a persuasive, motivational, inspirational, or otherwise effective way.