Torchbearers

duarte-leadI’ll follow you to the ends of the earth. Or, at least to the nearest pub. Anywhere there might be whisky, you can count on me to be close behind. Otherwise, you may have to work for it.

Well, you should work for it! Leading people is difficult — but following a leader without vision is the hardest thing in the world. If we can’t see the torch through the fog, we’re not necessarily going to be with you when you arrive.

Last week, I participated in a webinar led by my presentation hero, Nancy Duarte. Her Vision Talk webcast focused on the need for leaders to communicate their organization’s vision with effective persuasion. It can mean the difference between having a team of inspired co-travellers or a bunch of disengaged staff who’d rather follow a lemming off a cliff.

“Where there is no vision, people perish. It’s amazing, the power of hopelessness.”

The webinar, which you can see here, outlined the value and benefits of holding an annual “Vision Talk”, where leaders light the flame and show their teams where they’re heading and, more importantly, why they’re going there. She describes leaders as “torchbearers”, and the teams that follow them as “co-travellers”. What I found most interesting was the notion that, as a leader, even if you see clearly the opportunity ahead, your co-travellers will also see the barriers, the hazards, the risks and dangers.

It’s an important lesson, and one I continue to learn. As a leader, I often feel like my team should be right behind me, all the time. After all, I’ve inspired them, right? “Remember that speech, back then, in the boardroom, you were all so excited!” Well, yes, but, that was a long time ago, and the road has gotten much darker since.

Sometimes people get so caught up in their own vision, they just keep going. They don’t look back. Co-travelers need constant engagement, every leg of the journey. Continued communication is key because otherwise all the negative influences, the fear and anxiety, will take hold and cloud the way.

Keep the torch lit and in sight, and whenever someone seems a bit lost, go back and remind them why they’re doing this, and how great it’s going to be a the end.

Otherwise you’ll arrive to find nobody else is there with you, and you’ll sit solemnly at the bar, drinking whisky.

Alone.

#OpeningDay

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One of the best things about baseball is that you can fail most of the time and still be considered a great success. Last season’s batting title went to Dee Gordon of the Miami Marlins with a .333 batting average, meaning he managed one measly hit for every three at bats. That’s a failure rate of 67% — two thirds of the time. Imagine being allowed that margin of error in your job! Most of us are barely permitted one mistake, let alone a 3 game batting slump. Consider child care professionals, for example. You could take care of a thousand kids, and deliver 999 of them back to their parents, safe and sound. But it’s that one kid you lost that they’ll never forget. “Sorry, Ed, you’ll have to forget your merit increase this year — I mean, there was that kid…”

Today is Opening Day of the 2016 season, and it got me thinking about a presentation I delivered a few years ago about what we in the workplace can learn from baseball. I think one of the greatest lessons is that you don’t have to win to be successful. As a major league ball player, you’re not going to win the World Series every year. You may not even make the Post Season. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a successful season — because every at bat, or every trip to the mound, is an opportunity for success. If it doesn’t work out, there’s next inning. You don’t have to wait till tomorrow, or Monday (as we often tend to do from Thursday on…) to correct your mistakes and make it count.

One of the game’s greatest managers, Joe Torre, says:

“To me, success is playing — or working — to the best of your ability. And winning is a by-product of living up to your highest standards for your-self, getting the most out or your natural talents, reaching down and rooting out your own drive, courage and commitment… But success should be your daily focus. You can’t win every day, but you can succeed in fulfilling your potential as an individual and a team member.”

I often think about baseball coaches when I’m delivering a presentation, because you’re often trying to achieve the same thing — give a team of talented professions the tools, inspiration and motivation to succeed. Communication is so important in the pursuit of winning, be it on the diamond or in the office.

Why not look at it this way? Next time your about to give a presentation, see yourself in the locker room, on opening day. The entire season is ahead of you and anything is possible. The World Series is in reach, because you have the right time to get there. They have the talent, the skill and the drive. All you need to do is give them a little guidance, a few tips, and a touch of belief.

I’ve uploaded a version of the presentation I referenced earlier, with the new addition of the famous “bat-flip”.

Play ball.

The King and Queen of Symbols

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The second you see this photo, I know exactly what runs through your head. You can hear the words as if they’re being spoken directly in your ears. “I have a dream.” Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words echo throughout one of,  if not the best example of a speech that resonates in the history of public speaking. Add to that its persuasive impact — a world wide movement that literally, significantly and powerfully changed the world — and it’s worth all of the attention and analysis it continues to receive.

And… it’s received a lot! It’s worth even more. Watch the speech, then check out some of the great breakdowns on how it was structured, why it resonates and what gives it its persuasive power. Andrew Dlugan from Six Minutes gives a great breakdown of the speech with 5 lessons learned, and Nancy Duarte provides a “sparkline” that you can follow while listening.

What I love most about the speech is the consistent weaving of evocative imagery throughout. Besides the obvious — the repetition of his dream that the world can be a better place, that what is does not have to be — there are other incantations of palpable metaphors. “Drinking from the cup of bitterness and hate” is a biblical reference that instantly connects the audience to a deeper meaning, and my personal favourite is a spin on Shakespeare’s Richard III:

This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.”

Symbols work. They connect, they transform, they resonate. A recent, very powerful example is Beyonce (whom I’ve been told is now referred to as Queen Bey… the Queen to Martin’s King) and her performance at that football game. The berets, the big “X”, the Black Panther salute — all subtly couched in a wildly entertaining dance routine — continue to incite reaction. Even the negative response from some of the world’s smaller minds serves to prove that symbols can be more powerful than words. Interpret them as you will, you cannot deny that they evoke passion and force people to ponder upon their meaning.

Obviously, not every presentation is going to have the scope or the lasting world impact as Martin Luther King, Jr., but we can still look to him for guidance. The man who convinced the world that we can build a better future, who gave us hope that the world could be a better place, also gives us a shining example of how to engage people and inspire them to achieve impossible dreams.