There’s a medieval French phrase, “Rome ne fu[t] pas faite toute en un jour” from the collection Li Proverbe au Villian published around 1190; we all know it as “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” The phrase speaks to the idea that big things don’t happen immediately – it takes time. If you’ve ever visited Rome, you’ll understand why the phrase is so appropriate. From one of the Seven Wonders of the World – the Colosseum, to the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica, and Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel, every corner of that city is a reminder that impressive things are built over the course of time.
The great Vincent van Gogh once said, “Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” Leaders who have spear-headed successful transformations don’t underestimate the importance of the seemingly “small” tasks and steps required throughout the process.
One of the greatest experts on change management, John P. Kotter, breaks down the process of change into eight steps. Each step represents a significant action that is needed in order to successfully lead people through transition and transformation. These steps can be bucketed into three main phases: creating the climate for change, engaging and enabling the whole organization, and implementing the change. While I won’t go into detail about these steps, it’s important to recognize the need for small, digestible actions that – added together – create big, significant results.
Just as a mountaineer can’t leap from sea level to the summit, step by step they achieve amazing things. It’s that same patience and dedication to the process that is needed for change and transformation within an organization. I can’t help but parallel my experience climbing some of the highest peaks across the globe with this very concept. Checkpoints are reached by placing one foot in front of the other. Trust is placed between leaders and followers in order to traverse constantly changing conditions. As a team we are all aware of where we’re headed and the ultimate end goal – but it takes time…and a lot of steps, an estimated 58,070 steps to be exact in order to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
It’s not the number of steps that we should focus on, however. In fact, dwelling too much on what it will take start to achieve our goal will likely overwhelm and discourage. To accomplish change large or small, individuals need to be motivated and feel inspired to take all those steps needed to reach the desired result. To do that, it’s important to lead with the desired accomplishment and end goal in mind, with an understanding that it won’t just happen overnight. Like Rome, it will take time.
Provoking Change Through Persuasion and Visualization
Just recently we celebrated the 50th anniversary of landing Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon. It was an incredible feat – one that involved steady progress for nearly 20 years. It required a series of steps, tasks, and realignment of priorities in order to achieve it. But it all began with a vision communicated with passion and conviction.
On September 12, 1962, in the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, President John F. Kennedy gave a speech on the campus of Rice University in Houston, Texas. On that day, using a rhetorical technique called the Rule of Three (to be explored later in this book), Kennedy emphatically stated:
There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, thirty-five years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, and because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.
Kennedy wouldn’t live to see that happen, but his words spurred into action the chain of tasks required to actually land a man on the moon. His call to action inspired, persuaded, and provoked change. His words galvanized a nation to accomplish the impossible. And fittingly, Armstrong uttered the famous words, “That’s one small step for man—one giant leap for mankind.”
As we seek to bring about great things in our organizations, we should look to leaders like President Kennedy who brought to pass incredible change through their communication. He left his listeners with a bold and memorable action plan. To amplify the speech’s impact, he spoke with passion and purpose, instinctually moving Americans closer to his cause. Given the advent of the Cold War against the Soviet Union, he aroused the American people by infusing a strong sense of emotion into his address, which resonated long after his assassination.
Want to move people to your cause? Change minds and opinions on a given topic? Or convince them to get out of their seats and do something they swore they never would? Speak with passion and conviction. Help those around you visualize the end goal – the Roman Empire, the summit, the moon. When individuals can see the vision of what’s in store, the change required of them will seem worth it.
Remember, people are inspired by and make decisions based on emotion. The key to leading successful change lies in your ability to believe as strongly in the new direction as you want others to. If you can find a way to communicate that trust in an authentic and emotional way, you do more than persuade, you’ll build trust and confidence.
When you are in front of someone and want to persuade them to believe in or take action from what you’re saying, you have to sell it. You sell it by believing in it yourself. That’s just what President Kennedy did.
The Formula for Success
Emotion must be present in order to persuade, inspire, convince etc. Using the following three-phase formula will help you leverage emotion effectively to “make the close” – or, lead change in a way that people will follow, even if they initially don’t want to.
- Phase One – Preparation
What are your goals? What is it you hope to achieve with your team? What is the change that needs to occur and why might it be difficult? It’s easier for individuals to feel motivated and inspired if they understand what the goal is, how it’s important and why you/they care. Change will likely be a product of the desire of leadership. Be able to take these goals and break them down so that everyone has a reason to what to accomplish them with you. Consider what who your audience is and what you need them to think, feel and do in order to accomplish the goals you want to achieve.
- Phase Two – Execution
When you understand the why (the needed change) and who (your team/company), you need to properly execute your communication and how to achieve those goals with the help of those you lead. Each time you speak, conduct meetings, send emails, etc., impressions are being formed. Your words, the way you appear and how you engage with those around you make an impact on what is heard and understood. Be deliberate in what you say, how you say it, and why.
- Phase Three – Call-to-Action
If you expect to move individuals to your cause, you’ll need inspiration, persuasion and provocation – just like the example with President Kennedy. As an effective leader, your mission is to change someone’s mind, heart, and provoke action. Consider what motivates and inspires you, then consider each of your team members. If you are actively seeking to move through each of the phases before, you’ll not only understand what needs to be accomplished, you’ll understand who you are working with.
The Need for Ongoing Change
So, let’s say you’ve studied Mr. Kotter and applied the formula for success I just outlined. You’ve helped land your figurative man on the moon – achieving the desired change throughout your team, division and/or company. Are you done? No; as the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus is so often credited for concluding, “change is the only constant in life.” Which is why the concept of “kaizen” is such an important aspect of change management and process improvement. Kaizen is a Japanese word which translates to mean change (kai) for the good (zen). In business, kaizen refers to the need for continuous improvement across all processes and people. There will always be the need for ongoing change – for small adjustments, additions, and improvements – especially in ourselves. As an expert in leadership training, I can’t stress the following enough: change ultimately starts with yourself. Self-analysis and continuous improvement are absolutely key for the changes we hope to make within ourselves, in the teams we lead, and in the world we live in.
As leaders we may not be tasked with landing a man on the moon, climbing to the summit of Mr. Everest or building an ancient empire, but the changes we’ll be asked to lead and implement will require the same kind of strategic vision, endurance, and patience in order to be successful. Step by step and brick by brick, you can lead effective change. See what audiences across the country are experiencing and book Chuck to speak at your next workshop or conference; learn more.