The Visionary Leader - Part Two

Todd Braschler

President and Founder

My dad is the kind of guy who loves to laugh, loves to kid around, and loves to tease. Growing up as one of his kids, he would take us out of school to go fishing, sit beside our bed at night and share stories, and involved us in most every aspect of his life. But when it came to minding him, there was no “Mr. Nice Guy.” While he seemed easy going and carefree in much of his life and style of parenting, there was no messing around when it came to obeying and minding what he said.

Being the oldest of four kids, my 3 younger siblings and I spent hours at the dinner table with our parents laughing, story-telling and sometimes getting out of hand. In an effort to keep the peace at the table, my father devised a plan to change behavior. He slipped a flyswatter onto his lap, and used it to “adjust our attitude” when we misbehaved. A quick swat to the legs would halt any activity he deemed inappropriate at the table. Even the slightest gesture from him under the table eventually caught our attention enough to make us behave. That attitude adjuster later became known as the famed “get busy stick.” Today they would call that child abuse. Back then, we simply called it “effective parenting.”

I’m sure you have stories of how your parents attempted to bring about growth, change and maturity in you as well. The job of moving our children into adulthood, motivating them as they grow up is a never-ending calling. In the first blog in part 1 of becoming a visionary leader, we discussed the power of keeping and developing perspective as a leader. This week we’ll turn our attention to a second major tool in leading others with vision – moving people toward change, commitment and/or involvement. I once heard a leader sigh and exclaim, “I would love leading so much more if it wasn’t for one major barrier to effective leading – the attitude and commitment of people. It seems that in our world today, people do not commit anymore in much of anything.” I’ve often secretly thought it would be so much easier if we as leaders could simply carry around a “get busy stick,” like my father.

Many techniques and ideas have crossed my desk on this topic over the years, all promising to assist me in changing people, motivating them to commit, enticing them to participate or to give more effort. Unfortunately most, if not all of these tactics fell short of their promised outcome. It stands to reason that in order to effectively move people, a foundational change in my initial approach to leading was demanded of me. I was trying to inspire people to follow me, to motivate them, to move them with promises and rewards and, sometimes, consequences toward a direction, a commitment or a vision. Therein, I found the foundational concept in my own life that needed to change.

For you today, how would you define this word “inspire?” What does it mean to inspire someone to follow, to change, to commit or to participate? “Inspire” is defined – to fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something or get involved/ to raise their spirits, to excite another, to encourage. Much like the football coach in the photo above, we may often find ourselves trying to garner more effort out of others by yelling, challenging, or directing another. Initially, this feels right, engaging someone with a potential opportunity, getting them pumped up about it, and calling for a commitment.

There are a variety of techniques for inspiring people:

  • Potential rewards promised.
  • Personal benefit.
  • Fear or guilt.
  • Incentives.
  • Making demands of them.
  • Promises of something better than they have now.
  • An easier path than the one currently being traveled.
  • A solution, a cure, the potential to reach a goal.
  • Consequences if the opportunity is ignored.

The arenas of marketing, coaching, parenting and more know these techniques very well. The act of inspiring is powerfully imbalanced, however, on the side of the “inspirerer,” pouring effort and excitement in the face of a potential participant in hopes of garnering their commitment or involvement. All emotion and efforts come from the leader with little movement required from the follower until the challenge is given. This approach sees “stacking enough good or enough evidence” as a technique to convince someone to decide in a positive way. Sadly, this approach often resulted in a consistent response percentage of around 33% of what I had hoped for.

The “inspirational” approach leaves others with what I would consider a low-level, immature arena of thoughts to consider before making a commitment:

  • Do I like it or not?
  • Do I have time for it?
  • How much will it cost me?
  • Do I have to do anything to have it?
  • Is there any risk?

Often the reasoning behind this approach to changing and moving people was for the sake of the company, the team or the ministry.

  • “Volunteer to help so this project can be successful.”
  • “Our team will never win a game unless you give 100% of your effort.”
  • “Help our company meet its quota and work extra hard this week.”

One promise I can make to you with this approach of utilizing people for the sake of our goals and projects – they will always withhold a portion of their commitment.

Now, compare that definition and approach to moving people with the concept of “aspiring people.” To aspire someone means to direct their hopes or ambitions toward achieving something, to capture their heart, their desire, creating a hunger, an inner desire, a courage, a motivation within another.

To aspire someone means:

  • To internally move them.
  • To envision them toward something greater.
  • To articulate the personal return for their investment or commitment.
  • To create a desire, and hunger, and willingness to engage, to move toward a better outcome.
  • To capture the attention of another.
  • To open their eyes to the lack of fulfillment if they remain the way they are.

The act of “aspiring” requires creating an internal motivation rather than providing an external inspiration, a deep desire, and willingness to engage regardless of feelings or other priorities. It wraps a deeper purpose around someone and invites them to be a part of it for their sake, as well as for the benefit of the organization or endeavor. Aspiring people requires great patience on the part of a leader to commit to bringing people along with the event, the goal or project rather than use them up for the sake of the event or project or vision.

Aspiring others leads people to change and mature their criteria for making commitments and extra effort utilizing the following examples of questions, rather than those listed above:

  • How will this sacrifice build and develop me, along with accomplishing something great for others?
  • What commitment or project can I be a part of that will be fulfilling to me, showing me that my life is counting?
  • How can following this leader help God fulfill his vision in me?

Our world is, unfortunately, overpopulated with those in leadership positions who see people as resources, as helpers to achieve their goals and dreams. These kinds of leaders make it easy to say “no” to their invitations to be involved. Even when the task is noble and for a great cause, the understanding that my only return is “a good feeling that I did something nice for someone else” falls so short of capturing the heart of people. What is the missing piece?

Show me a leader who has invested the difficult, valuable time of articulating their vision for people, and that vision resonates with the person I desire to become, and I’ll show you someone I would follow and sacrifice alongside any day. Often, that well-described vision for the kind of people a leader desires to build through their leadership is the missing piece to capturing the heart of others. Knowing that any involvement with a leader will not only accomplish a great deal, but will, as well, help me to become the person I desire to be is one of the greatest aspiring features of a leader. In our next and final blog, we will conclude with a glimpse of a visionary leader who understands this simple, aspiring concept – endeavor to build and develop those who serve alongside us, utilizing the task or project at hand, and watch as people will make extraordinary efforts to serve and sacrifice alongside you.