Thursday, January 29, 2009

Made to Stick

Recently, I have had the opportunity to begin reading "Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die" by Chip & Dan Heath. In the book, there are some principles given about ideas that can be applied to leadership. First, "keep it simple." As a leader, it is vital to "determine the single most important thing." Too often in our work as educators & leaders we become too easily diverted from the main focus. One of the fundamental rules of journalism can be summed up by the statement: "Don't bury the lead." As leaders, we must have single-mindedness of purpose and laser-like vision on the main goal and we must continually share that goal with others so that we don't "bury the lead."
Another key component of effective leadership is use of the "unexpected." It is vital as leaders to "grab attention" and then to keep it. How do we keep people's attention? As a writer, one might employ a technique known as the "news-teaser approach." For example, a headline such as "Which local restaurant has slime in the ice machine?" is certain to garner more attention than something like "Local man eats cereal for breakfast." While this may seem like a ridiculous comparison, it illustrates an important point: as leaders, we must exhibit an uncommon enthusiasm and confidence when working with others. We must have a genuine concern for people and their needs that is evident in our words and actions, as well as in our eagerness to listen.
A third characteristic of effective leadership is summarized by the word "concrete." We must be able to address issues in a way that is practical and relevant. All the theories in the world are meaningless if they do not lead to specific actions that can help resolve people's issues. It is important to find common ground at a shared level of understanding. As leaders, we must master the ability to place ourselves "in another's shoes" to know best how to help in any given situation. It has been said that teachers learn much more than students because they learn the material twice: once during the preparation, and once during the delivery to the students. As leaders, we are only effective when we offer advice that gets to the heart of the issues that people face.
A fourth characteristic of effective leadership is "credibility." We must help people believe. It is not enough to offer advice and then say "I hope this works for you." We must convince people that what we have to share with them has been proven to be effective in other similar situations and circumstances.
A fifth trait of effective leadership is the concept of "emotion." We must make people care! How can we make people care? We need to appeal to self-interest and identity. I doubt there are many people in the world who get out of bed each day and say "I wonder how badly I can perform today?" However, some people don't reach their potential simply because they don't have the proper encouragement. At the 1993 ESPY Awards, the late Jim Valvano, former men's basketball coach at North Carolina State University, delivered a stirring speech that brought the audience to tears. He suggested that all people need to do three things each day: think, laugh, and cry. In doing so, he said that people experience a "full day." As human beings we are emotional beings, and as leaders, we must be able to display emotion at appropriate times and in appropriate ways. We are not robots!
Finally, a sixth characteristic of effective leadership is the ability to tell stories. There are two main types of stories: stories that simulate (or tell people how to act), and stories that inspire (or give people energy to act). We must be able to use both types of stories as we work with people. Some people need more of the former, while others need more of the latter. As we continually develop our relationships with people, we will gain insights as to what types of stories they need to hear from us!
By employing these six principles, we will be able to provide effective leadership for people from all walks of life, no matter where our journey as leaders might take us.


maggie said...

Colby, I like what you wrote about the two types of stories...I hadn't thought about that dichotomy before. It also occurs to me that we need to take time to reflect so that we can "write" these stories from our experiences.

Gordon said...

Colby, Great post! I totally agree with the authors and their six main points. I also like the point about delivering the story. Have you ever heard of the KISS principle? Keep It Short and Simple!