The Visionary Leader

In times of crisis, we prefer Visionary Leaders. Hope is a strong motivator to current action when the situation is difficult.

In the years leading up to 2008, the USA was stuck in two protracted wars, and an economic crisis sparked by the subprime lending collapse. In this context of uncertainty, the big factor that helped to sweep Barrack Obama into the Presidency was that he was seen as an inspiring and visionary leader. His message gave hope for a better future to come.

The Ethos-Based Speech model uses the force of the leader’s personal and professional credibility combined with hope to move an audience to take action. It is a vital tool for effective leaders when facing times of uncertainty and crisis.

Likewise, Ronald Reagan came to power in a time of uncertainty.  He was a powerful visionary speaker.  His speech after the Challenger space shuttle disaster was a very clear Ethos-Based speech structure and delivery.

Example Ethos-Based Speech: Ronald Reagan’s Challenger address


The Ethos-Based Speech

The Ethos-Based Speech follows this simple structure:

Screen Shot 2013-06-07 at 17.51.46


Starts with a moment in time “4 years ago” or “When we founded this company” or “70 years ago”. Past describes a situation where things were “good”. Past sets a common context. Ronald Reagan’s speech after the Challenger space shuttle disaster begins with a story about what happened 400 years ago – the founding of the USA. This creates a common context and connection for his audience.


Describes today’s reality. Often this is a negative in contrast with the Past. There are challenges. Not everything is rosy. However, the audience needs to see that the leader lives in their world, sees what they see. This clear seeing of today’s real situation establishes credibility. Ronald Reagan’s Challenger speech tells of what he and his wife Nancy saw on TV that morning, how they felt and what it meant. He then speaks to the children, then to the teachers, then to the families of the dead astronauts. He is direct and clear about the real situation and the feelings.


Imagines a better situation in future. “5 years from now, I see a company that is strong…” Outlines what the hard work we need to day will achieve. Connects todays difficulty with a purpose.

I made a short video last week to explain some of the advanced modules we run in IESE for Persuasive Communication skills.

This video explains the IESE Visionary Communication Module


Original Post

Fascinating? Photo Credit: Angel~Lily

When I step on stage to speak, I get 8 seconds before the listener decides how to categorize me:

  1. worth attention, or
  2. time to check my mobile email

What are your first words?

When I meet someone at a conference, a party, an event…  again – we have 8 seconds.  Catch attention, or the other person is starting to scan the room for a more interesting conversation partner and beginning to plan her escape: “oh I must get a new drink”, “Is the toilet over there?”, “Oh I must say hello to Anna”…

In those 8 seconds, your whole life is judged on the power of your first words.  What are they?  There are 7 billion humans…  how do you stand out as different?  (you are different… but how to sum up a whole life in several words?)…

So often a speaker begins with:

  • “Hi”
  • “Good morning”
  • “What’s up?”

How does that help differentiate from 3 billion?

In-different = Boring

What does stop us for a moment?  What delays the escape routine of the listener?

There are 7 triggers of fascination.  Brands, people, even you use these triggers every day.  You have one that is your “primary” trigger.  What is your “primary” trigger?

  1. Power – Take command of the environment
  2. Pasion – Attract with emotion, irrational, irresistible charm
  3. Mystique – Arousing curiosity
  4. Prestige – Increase respect, aspiration
  5. Alarm – Driving urgency
  6. Vice – Creativity, Deviation from the norm, See things differently
  7. Trust – Connection through consistency and predictability

Sally Hogshead explains the 7 triggers in her TEDx talk:


What do you think?

7 Challenges of Weak Communciators

These are 7 challenges that can be overcome if you take the time to improve your communication skills.  Some have very quick fixes, others require considerable practice to turn into strengths.

  1. I lose people’s attention easily
  2. People agree, but then do nothing
  3. People avoid my phone calls (… at least I think so!)
  4. People avoid giving me feedback (or only “sugarcoated”)
  5. I have difficulty listening to others
  6. People never agree with me
  7. People “hijack” my meetings, my presentations, my conversation


What are your Communications Challenges?

Photo Credit: blurredfoto
Photo Credit: blurredfoto
  1. Let Go of Things Others Can Do – Avoid busy-ness as a sign of productivity
  2. Encourage Initiative – Allow falling-forward-failure, Destroy comfort-zone; The Institutional Yes
  3. Direction and Discipline – Ensure people have goals and know how they are doing
  4. Excruciating Accountability – hold themselves and others to clear process goals (under own control)
  5. Focus – Don’t dilute energy; Never, ever, ever more than 5 Priorities, and 1 Un-Missable Priority.
  6. Delegate – to challenge, develop and empower people
  7. Coach – to ensure success
  8. Reinforce Good Attempts – Reward thoughtful action, not “correctness”
  9. Share Everything – resources, information, knowledge and skills
  10. Value Each Individual – with Trust and Respect
  11. Give Questions, not Answers – Provide support without taking over
  12. Practice what they Preach“One should preach every day; if necessary, use words” St Francis of Assisi

Reading on Leadership

Daniel Shi gives a simple but profound answer to “How can I learn to be more Influential?” over on Quora:

I think that you can certainly become influential without having to do something “extraordinary.”

7 Steps to become more Influential

  1. Connect with many people. Learn that just because someone may not be important today, it doesn’t mean that he or she won’t be in the future. And even better if it is with your help.
  2. Remember people’s names and what you talked about. Have a repository in memory of what you talked about. Everybody you know has some request for help that you may be able to help them with. Have it cycling in your head as you go about meeting more people and encountering new things. When something clicks, act upon it. And that brings me to:
  3. Follow up. Find reasons to talk to people. Do this out of genuine desire to build relationships and to help people. Learn to tell the difference between being genuine and when you are being too forward.
  4. Develop a love of helping other people. See the success of other people as being your success, rather than a lost opportunity for you. If you help someone else out, they will remember you down the road.
  5. Don’t think of interactions with people as a one shot deal. You will no doubt meet that person again some day. You will have another interaction with them as well.
  6. Learn to communicate well. None of the above is really applicable if you find it difficult to craft a message.
  7. Be likeable, but not to everybody.

And of course, this is the most important lesson that I ever learned from my college accounting professor:

Your name is your most valuable asset.

Original Text: Quote of Daniel Shi’s answer to How can I become influential?

Further Reading

What do you think?

What is Charisma?

In the words of Dr. Nick Morgan “Charisma is focussed emotion.”

There are 2 ways to increase your capacity to deliver “Focussed Emotion” when you speak:

  1. Remove Distractions: remove all distractions 30 minutes before you speak
  2. Care: know how the message of your speech can change people’s quality of life
Watch the video here on the blog.

What do you think?  Is this Bill Clinton’s secret?  

“Social Media is not about technology, it is about the relationships you can form” Charlene Li, author of Groundswell.

I had the privilege of having coffee with Charlene Li before she spoke to 400 people in IESE Business School’s Aula Magna in Barcelona at the HSM Social Media event.  Watch the video of our interview on the blog.

“I don’t want to be ‘messaged’, engage with me”

We spoke about her book, examples of companies who use social media effectively, and how she, as a parent, manages her family’s exposure to social media.


“It’s not just about listening, it’s about learning and changing…  to consumers marketing often feels like someone shouting at them. That is not a dialogue. You need to join the conversation but you have to have the conversation with your customers that they want to have.”

Does your company use facebook, twitter, google+ effectively?  

Shower Water Snake feeding :)“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.” Lao Tzu

Soft Power is part of Leadership

  • Soft Power is necessary to get things done
  • Leaders have soft power
  • People with soft power skills become leaders
  • Soft Power decides how disagreements about what to do and how to do it get resolved

Soft Power is given based on other’s perception of us

If you look like a leader, if you act like a leader: people will treat you like a leader.  If you look like a follower, if you act like a victim, if you are perceived as weak: people will ignore your input.

Joseph Nye, a professor at Harvard who coined the term “soft power”, speaks about the shift in the source of power over the last 100 years.  In the industrial age power was defined by “who’s army wins”.  In the information age power  is defined by “who’s story wins”.

  • Hard power: Get others to do what they otherwise wouldn’t want to do (“My army is bigger than yours”, “I am the boss”)
  • Soft power: Get others to want what I want (“Here is a future I can help you create”)

8 Behaviors of Powerful People

What are the behaviors of people who wield soft power?  What can you do to model leading with soft power?  Jeffrey Pfeffer offers this list of 8 behaviors in his book “Power”:

  1. Make eye contact
    1. Looking down or away conveys evasiveness
    2. Not making eye contact is perceived as untrustworthy
  2. Take up space and adopt an expansive posture
    1. If you adopt a “power” pose, you will not only feel more powerful, your actual blood chemistry (cortisol, a stress hormone, and testosterone) will change
    2. Don’t hunch, fold your arms in front of your chest, or do other things that signal defensiveness
  3. Use forceful gestures—avoid waving your arms; use compact gestures such as pointing or moving your hands in a powerful fashion
  4. Use your voice and its tone to convey power
    1. Speak loudly (within reason)
    2. Don’t raise your inflection at the end of a sentence, making statements seem like questions
    3. Don’t umm and ehh, speak without filler words
  5. Manage the setting to the extent possible
    1. Use symbols of power—dress, uniforms
    2. Control seating, ask people to move if it would be better to ensure eye contact
    3. If the room is cold, ask somebody to put the heat on
  6. Don’t use notes
    1. Notes convey that you are “mouthing” someone else’s message
    2. Notes imply you are not in command and are uncertain
    3. Notes require you to look down, breaking eye contact
  7. Have meetings on your territory, if possible
  8. Display Anger rather than Sadness or Remorse
    1. Those with power have permission to be angry, so the expression of anger has become associated with power
    2. Research shows that others convey more status to someone who expresses anger rather than sadness or guilt
    3. In many instances, situations are ambiguous—if you are ashamed and embarrassed by your behavior, others will follow your lead

Acting Powerfully is a learnable skill

You can learn the practice of soft power.  Studies of “genius”—outstanding performance in fields ranging from athletics, to art, to math and science—consistently find that raw, innate talent is overrated. What matters is Deliberate Practice and coaching.  Malcolm Gladwell tells us that it takes 10,000 hours to become world class.

8 Behaviors of Speaking with Power

“Communication persuades others largely through how we look and present ourselves; second, by how we sound, and of least importance, by the content of what we say. Therefore, how we “show up” is important in our ability to attract support for efforts to lead change.” Jeffrey Pfeffer

  1. Use clear, simple, declarative sentences
  2. Use lists of 3 or more items
  3. Use contrasts, framed to make your position seem reasonable by comparison
    1. “Do you want to retreat or persevere to achieve victory”
  4. Show similarity to audience. Because we tend to support those to whom we are similar, use “us” versus “them” references to develop an association with your audience and seem like one of them
  5. Pause for emphasis (5 aspects of a Powerful Voice)
  6. Avoid notes
  7. Interruption
    1. Powerful people interrupt
    2. Those with less power get interrupted
  8. Use humor— No one ever left a speech saying “I hated the way she made me laugh out loud”.  Laughter unites a group.  It is a shared experience. Powerful leaders create shared experiences that bring people together.

Grow your army or tell better stories

 Are you spending your time and effort developing a better, stronger army or are you developing the ability to attract people towards your vision through looking like a leader and sharing your stories in ways that those stories become the reality for others?  A coup can take the army away from you.  No coup can destroy the stories.
If you want to be a better leader, start by acting like the best leaders.  What is soft is strong.

I have prepared a series of short videos for my IESE courses this year. This is a 3 minute video outlining the 4 attitudes that an audience will have towards you as a speaker and how to approach each of these 4 types of audience. (The video is here on my blog).


I wrote about the four types of audience back in December on this blog.  There is a greater discussion of the approach to dealing with a hostile audience in that post that the material covered in the video.

The four types of audience attitude are:

  1. Friendly
  2. Apathetic
  3. Uninformed
  4. Hostile

Over to you
Do you think about the attitude of people that you communicate with on a regular basis?  What category are employees in when you speak to them as a manager?  What category are teenagers in?  How do you deal with apathy in an audience?

I have prepared a series of short videos for my IESE courses this year. This is a 3 minute video describing Aristotle’s Rhetorical Triad, the 3 pillars of persuasion. You need to connect with an audience on each of these three levels if you wish to move them to action. (The video is here on my blog).


The basic principles of persuasion were developed over hundreds of years in Ancient Greece and Rome by philosophers such as Socrates, Aristotle, Cicero and Quintilian. At the very heart of this development was Aristotle’s triad of logos, ethos and pathos. Aristotle’s innovation was to include “ethos”, or credibility, into the accepted approach to persuasion.

Over to you
Do you consider these three elements in your communication?  Do you use them in emails, letters, presentations, negotiations and prepared speeches?  What ways do you demonstrate credibility?