Link to podcast episode: EL 37: How to Engage Others in Creating the Future | with Terry Pearce
JESSE LAHEY: Welcome to the show leaders. How do you inspire people to take action toward a shared goal? To answer that question, I am pleased to welcome back to our show Terry Pearce; author of Leading Out Loud: A Guide for Engaging Others and Creating the Future. This is the best selling guide to authentic leadership communication. The newest edition of this book hit book stores earlier this year. Terry had many years of experience at IBM and Charles Schwab. He’s taught leadership communication courses at Berkeley and the London Business School. For the last couple of decades he’s been coaching and consulting with CEO’s and elected leaders. Terry, we enjoyed having you on episode 33. Welcome back to the Engaging Leader Show.
TERRY PEARCE: It’s great to be back. Thanks for having me Jesse. I appreciate it.
JESSE: A major theme of your book is that an effective leader has to go beyond telling people what to do and expecting compliance. You need to engage people to create a mutually desirable future.
TERRY:Yes, that’s correct. In fact, that’s a good synopsis of exactly what the book is about. What I try to do are, through example and story and a little bit of science, show people how best they can develop themselves in to that kind of a leader.
JESSE: To create engagement in a change or a vision you recommend that a leader start by writing a personal leadership communication guide. I think it would surprise many people that you want them to start by writing. Why do you have this emphasis on writing?
TERRY: It actually applies a discipline to authenticity. So often if we actually do sit down and write, any of us that have gone to school and done any kind of writing assignments were always surprised by what comes out when you sit down and put pen to paper or sit down to a keyboard. It’s actually a fine way, scientists tell us, of actually learning what we think. It allows us to use all parts of our brain and spirit rather than constantly being pressured by the presence of others in the room as we’re communicating. So it’s a discipline. I’ve journaled all of my life and certainly I encourage all of my clients to journal. I also encourage them to blog. I know when they’re writing they’re actually gaining understanding. That’s one reason; to gain clarity. The other reason is because in the course of normal communication the parts that I think are the most important; that is the ways in which we can garner trust from other people; those aren’t natural to us in the heat of battle; whether it’s a battle in a business environment or in a political campaign. By preparing ahead of time, by thinking of an issue and including elements that would build trust, we build habit. We build our own muscles in that arena so when we’re live in real time we won’t forget that. We’ll include that and we’ll be able to build our own empathetic muscle to a greater degree. So all of those reasons are why I suggest writing. If I get push back on it, and I frequently do, I do have my clients start by journaling and then I’ll use their journals to point out why they should be writing more frequently and that seems to do the trick.
JESSE: I like the story you tell about Matt Hyde from REI and how he puts so much time in to crafting the messages that he gives at a live presentation but then how that serves him well. It seems like a big investment of time but it not only serves him at those moments when he’s speaking with prepared thoughts but when he needs to speak off the cuff. As you said, he’s already worked those muscles and he has the words he needs and the authentic messages at those moments when he’s standing up in front of people.
TERRY: Matt’s a rare guy. He’s a really interesting, introspective and yet extroverted human being who now, by the way, is no longer with REI. He is actually CEO at West Marine. He’s doing very well. Matt told me when we were speaking about this that it takes him about an hour to write and prepare for every minute of a presentation. The good news is though that he will use a lot of material that he’s already written and plug it in so that while the topic may be different, some of the supporting stories and some of the supporting techniques that he would use to connect with a group emotionally are constant.
JESSE: That sounds a lot like the way you describe a personal leadership guide; how you put certain thought in to preparing for that but then it gives you a lot of the tools that you’re going to put in to place throughout your leadership activities. What specifically is a personal leadership communication guide?
TERRY: It is a tool. You put your finger right on it. What I’ve done is develop a framework that has certain elements to it. Then I’ve laid those elements out. The guide contains a narrative about all of the elements in the guide so that I’m sure that when the guide is complete, whoever the leader is will have all the tools that he or she would need; all of the information; the stories; the narrative; the reflections; the metaphor; the symbols; the data they would need to communicate in any venue using any media. Once a personal leadership communication guide is done, it becomes the basis for the content for anything else, for off the cuff remarks, for conversations by the water cooler or even for speeches to thousands of people. It’s a discipline for them. The other thing it does, once you’ve done it, it changes your thought pattern so that in communication situations you tend to see the elements of the framework as they come up in natural conversation. It’s easier for you to note what is missing and then you can go right to that section of those thoughts that you had and wrote down and basically you’ll be saying something like oh I see the problem; this person just doesn’t have enough context. I need to really go back and tell the story of where we’ve been and we are as the basis for where we’re going. It becomes that kind of a tool. The other thing that it has; and I don’t want to minimize it because it’s the primary reason it has the word personal in it; I said on the previous show that it’s imperative for leaders to inspire that they know themselves and have had some self reflection. The subtitle to the sub name of the personal leadership communication guide is a biography with a purpose. I want to make sure there are enough of the leaders personal values embedded in the guide so he or she can bring those out when it’s appropriate and in ways that will really inspire others.
JESSE: Does a leader need a single guide or one for every major change effort?
TERRY: Of course the content will change with every major change effort but the surrounding material will, in some cases, be very consistent. For example, we were talking about Matt Hyde. Many of my other clients do journal now. What they’ll do is record things that impress them during the day. This is not a formal process. It might be just a few notes on a notepad; stories they ran across; people they met; things they were impressed with; thoughts they had; so that becomes grist for the guide. Then they’ll have the guides themselves. If I were trying to create a new organization that looked a certain way, I would certainly create a guide for that particular change that would have all the elements in it. But it would be salted with stories that represented my values. It would be salted with elements that I normally wouldn’t use if I were trying to be spontaneous so in that sense every guide has a large piece that translates to the next one. It’s also true that once you’ve done one, as I said, you kind of change your way of thinking. You have a model in your mind and you can go to various places when you need to.
JESSE: How does this personal guide fit with an organizational communication strategy? For example, when helping a large employer communicate a change to its employees, we create a communication strategy that outlines the organizations communication objectives, stakeholders, key messages and so forth. If a leader decides yes I need a personal communication guide, how does that fit in with the organizational strategy?
TERRY: Usually a strategy is aimed at; I understand this is what you do for a living and I understand you do it quite well; within that framework you’ll have certain messages that you want to pin down. Those messages, in general, the objective and what the guide does is help to refine or to granulate the strategy. Once the strategy is in place, now we need to put content in it and we need to personalize it because we realize each is going to have their own way of conveying what they need to convey to get the result of the strategy accomplished. That’ show the personal communication guide fits in. Once that framework and strategy is in place, the guide becomes a natural next step; particularly for key executives to create.
JESSE: That makes sense. You’re making it personal for the key executives and other leaders who need to be spokes people as part of the change effort or the progress effort.
TERRY: Yes. Because everybody won’t have the same stories. Everybody will have a different content in the way they put forth the effort. I couldn’t tell your stories any more than you could tell mine but we would both have individual stories that would have the same effect.
JESSE: You recommend four sections in a personal communication guide. The first section is building trustworthiness. What are some examples of the content that we would include in that section?
TERRY: There’s a reason why this is first in the guide. It’s the one that’s most often left out and in my view one of the most essential. Competence and trustworthiness includes a clarity of purpose. Are we really clear what the problem is and what the specific change that we’re advocating is going to be? Frequently people talk around that and never really get to the real nut of what it is. We have to have at the outset at least some note that at some point we recognized there was a problem so there’s a little bit of evidence here of this compelling need. Then there’s also the very broad implication of the change we’re advocating; a broad gauge of if we do this here is what’s going to happen and if we don’t do it this is what’s going to happen and here’s the value that we’re representing in moving ahead with this initiative. That’s some of the competence side. In addition to that, your credentials and vulnerability. One looks at okay this particular kind of effort I’ve had experience with in the past. What would it be? What kind of credentials would followers know to know about me in order to at least suggest that I might be competent to lead this kind of an effort? Trustworthiness is the other one.
This is the more important one to me and you got right to it. This is the one that’s most often left out. When we objectify it and actually start to write things down, we have a much better opportunity of seeing the opportunity for building trust as we communicate. For example, we know we want to display empathy when we’re having communication but what does that mean? What are the ways in which people can actually display empathy and know that they’re trustworthy? One way is to express gratitude. Another is to acknowledge resistance before it’s voiced. By giving people the knowledge that you understand their different points of view in the room and different feelings about this particular initiative, you’ll go a long way toward establishing yourself as someone who’s empathetic and therefore worthy of trust; finding commonality in purpose. Also your own willingness to be known and to put elements in the communication that would allow people to know who you really are. What is your personal motivation here? What’s the personal value that it seems to be important to you in the individual effort? These are all things that when you write them down you have to think about them. That’s the first section of the guide and probably the most difficult one for most executives to deal with.
JESSE: One of the stories that you tell in the book that I think illustrates this well is Mario Cuomo when he was Governor of New York speaking at Notre Dame on the topic of abortion. He was speaking to a group that probably at the beginning of the conversation was not very willing to listen to him based on his stance. He did that in a way that had a lot of empathy and I think by the time he was done with his introduction they were willing to listen to what he had to say.
TERRY: The combined faculty and administration at Notre Dame had asked Cuomo to speak about abortion right and this was at a time right after the Bishops had actually written a letter that was considered political and published it in the New York Times urging governmental action; which was highly unusual for the church to do that. If you don’t mind, I’ll just read that segment. I think the audience will get the idea that, by showing this vulnerability, Cuomo opens up the possibility for greater dialogue.
Let me begin this part of the effort by underscoring the obvious. I don’t speak here as a theologian. I don’t have that competence. I don’t speak as a philosopher either because to suggest that I could would set a new record for false pride. I don’t presume to speak as a good person except in the ontological sense of the word. I do speak here as a politician and also as a Catholic; a lay person baptized and raised in the pre Vatican to church, educated in Catholic schools, attached to the church first by birth then by choice and now by love; an old fashioned Catholic who sends regrets, struggles, worries, gets confused and most of the time feels better after confession. The Catholic Church is my spiritual home. My heart is there and my hope.
I don’t care who you are. You couldn’t hear this even as a practicing Catholic that was pro life and not grasp the empathy in the man and give him the right to be heard. It put him directly in the center of this group he was speaking to. I think it was a brilliant piece of writing and, of course, had the effect he wanted it to.
JESSE: It definitely went a long way towards building trustworthiness there. That’s the first section. The second section is creating shared context. What does that mean?
TERRY: It suggests that the leader sees things differently. If you want to make a substantial change with the way things are, you’ve studied the problem, you have all the facts, you know the history but the people you are asking to come along with you and to implement are not that privileged. They don’t have that same point of view. It’s like the leader is standing on the bow of the ship looking out and can see the waves and the weather and the sharks and the pirates and everything else. He has the entire story and can look forward, can look aft. Most people are more like they’re down in the third deck below and their view is out of a little bitty porthole. All they see are the things that affect them; sometimes just immediately. The idea of creating shared context is to be able to share a story of where we’d been and where we are as the basis for where we’re going. That includes the history of an issue. I usually like to cut the history up in to two or three sections; how is this issue been over x amount of time? What changes have we made to get us to where we are? Then make sure we are clear about the priority and what we’re suggesting and that we believe the action that we’re suggesting is going to affect other things in a positive way. Be sure that everyone understands the current reality and then reinforce your own competence and trustworthiness by revealing: where did you come in to this movie? When did you arrive? At what point? What was the state of this particular problem? Then you can reticulate the broader perspective of how you believe it’s going to be impactful as you go forward. Context is history, priority, current reality, and the reinforcement of competence and trust. All of this is necessary because if people don’t understand it then they may go through the motions. If they do understand it, they’ll have the entire surrounding story to reinforce their own belief and action in supporting it.
JESSE: That makes good sense. I really identified with Mike McMullen, who you talk about in the book, when he was general manager of the Chemical Analysis Group of Agilent Technologies. He stepped in to that role there with a challenging situation and you shared the excerpts from his personal guide. I was really able to feel like I understood that shared context at the end of that and thought yeah this is a leader I could get behind and support this direction that he wants to take us.
TERRY: This became even more important to Mike as he got down the road. In that particular situation he walked in to an organization that was basically in a turnaround mode. They were thought of as kind of a hold our own and ride the curves downward. Later on, as he was instituting growth and actually generating what, at that time, was the largest acquisition in Agilent’s history when they bought Berrien to help revitalize this organization, people that weren’t there in the beginning didn’t have an appreciation of how far it had come and why it was necessary. Mike used this particular part of the guide to a real advantage to build understanding; not just in the organization itself but on the board of directors.
JESSE: That’s creating shared context. The third section is describing the future. You say leaders essentially do the same work as a prophet. What do you mean by that?
TERRY: You actually left one word out. It’s not just describing it. It’s declaring it. It’s in the declaration phase that leaders share, in my view, the elements of the prophet. When I went to school I took a lot of religious philosophy and actually got enough credits to get a minor in it. I was always curious about the argument of whether prophets; Biblical or religious prophets; predicted the future or created it. I always came down on the side of creation because as we look at these great changes in human history that have come about like the freeing of the slaves or the reformation or even something as local as sending a man to the moon, these were all started by declaration. Declaration actually created a situation that then had to be manifested. It started with a declaration, just as with the Declaration of Independence. We hold these truths to be self evident. They’re not self evident.
In fact, at the time the Declaration of Independence was written and said something audacious like all men are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights, the truth was that all men didn’t have rights. Basically it was white men with property had rights. That declaration was pretty audacious and it took us 200 years to get to a point where we’re actually making it true. That’s what I meant by that. Leaders perform that same act when they declare and describe a future. Obviously few of us get to play on that big of a stage but actually declaring a company or organization is going to look like this is five years or in eight years or when we finish with this initiative is a very strong statement of possibility. Then we need to be able to, in our imagination, create it in the minds of others; to share it in a way that they see themselves in it. These are pretty tough skills. The declaration is not but the describing is something that is difficult for many people to do who see themselves as sort of bored zions. I really emphasize this business of imagining a future and painting that picture in a way that others can see themselves in it.
JESSE: That’s pretty powerful. The fourth section is committing to action. That sounds simple. It’s time to act; to tell people what to do. But you point out that many leaders fail to engage people on action because they don’t offer their own personal action.
TERRY: We often hear action is eloquence and of course I believe that to be true after all of this guide is complete. It really comes down to this. In fact, often my own clients will use this guide as a way of inspiring themselves. When they get to the end of it, as many of us do when we write, we’ll look back at it and say gee that’s pretty good. What am I going to do about this? How can I put myself in this so my commitment comes through? What am I willing to bet? What action am I going to take? I tell a story in the book. Jesse, you and I share a love of physical activity and I’m quite a bit older than you are so I’m on the downward slope of that. In 1989 I ran across the United States with a group of people and set the record for that distance. It was a relay. We ran from San Francisco to Washington DC. We were on the verge of setting a record. It was a night and day thing. We were in to the run about 15 days and we were sitting outside of Washington DC waiting for our runner to come down the road and take the baton. The problem was we were on the loop and there were actually ruts in the side of the road where we were sitting from 18 wheelers that had run off the road. It was a very dangerous situation. It was about 4:00 in the morning and it was raining very hard and it was obviously pitch black.
We were debating what we should do. Our advisor in DC. by radio was telling us that we should stop and wait for daylight. We knew that we could stop and still break the record but we had been nonstop since San Francisco so in a way it was morally debilitating for us to do that. As we were sitting there discussing it the leader of the group, a fellow named Andy Mecca who later went on to be the drug czar of California, stood up. We saw the runner coming down this black road in the rain with wind blowing and approaching our RV and it was our turn to take the baton. In the middle of the discussion Andy just opened the door and stepped out. As I tell that story, I’m also reliving it. It was so emotional and so inspiring. He didn’t want to talk about it. He just stepped out, took the baton, and kept it until daylight. Then the rest of us picked it up and ran it on to DC. It’s that commitment that speaks so loudly. That’s what I mean by the importance of action. Anywhere we look, great leaders, Sadat didn’t want to hear more discussion. He said I’m going to finesse it and he did.
JESSE: Your story of Andy, that didn’t even require words. He just acted. That spoke volumes. But as you’re creating your personal communication guide you’re actually at this point saying I’ve just declared and described the future. Here is what I intend to do. This is my personal commitment. And you describe your immediate next step or several steps down that. Then you suggest the other part a lot of other leaders often leave out is a call for specific actions that everyday individuals can take. What’s an example of that?
TERRY: It can be something really simple. My criteria for that are: it should be something you can do immediately and something that will be at least symbolic of their commitment to move beyond that. For example, one of my teachers is a Benedictine Monk and David Stile asked; Brother David is a real advocacy for the environment. He’s a zealot in that regard. He spoke about this at a conference I was at in Switzerland at a resort community. He spoke about the need to be mindful in every little way about what we do that affects the environment. He got a standing ovation when he finished talking. The real story was at the end he said we all have to decide what we’re going to do about this. The next morning, as we were making our way to breakfast, Brother David was seen in the quad of this resort with a bag in his hand picking up litter; picking up little paper bags and pieces of cigarettes and other things and putting them in the bag. He took that bag with him to breakfast and put it in the garbage can. By the end of that conference, literally hundreds of people were getting up every morning, getting little bags and going out and demonstrating their commitment by picking up the litter that was left in the resort.
That’s one example of something that people could do immediately that was demonstrative that would show their commitment. In a corporate environment, obviously, it comes off a little different. As we’re developing the guide we’re deciding what it is that we want to do. What kind of action could we take? You might say for the next year I’ve asked to be relieved from everything else that I am doing so I can focus on this and I’m going to put 100% of my compensation on the success of this operation; beginning today. You can count on me to be there for you in any way that I can. Here’s what I would ask of all of you: Have a look at your own work load. See what it is that you can shift so we can give the highest priority possible to this project. Maybe by Friday send me an email and let me know what you’ve discovered about it and how you can clear a little bit more of your own schedule to focus on this. That the inspire. But once people get in to the action step, then you’ve started the momentum to actually creating what it is that you want to create.
JESSE: I love that. And taking that level of specificity; even though it may seem minor; you’re basically moving this change effort beyond just a big organizational reform that’s really beyond the ability of any single person to make happen; which a lot of times when a leader describes the future it sort of sounds like that so you just get the idea of well they’re going to make this happen so I’ll just go along with it. But you’re asking for a simple definitive action on their part and it basically seals the bargain.
TERRY: Yes. In fact, there’s a lot of precedent for it. Perhaps the most eloquent one in my lifetime has been when Kennedy made the declaration to go to the moon. My favorite part of that whole declaration was when he said because if we make this decision, it’s a commitment not only of mine and of the government but of every citizen, every person in the armed service, everyone who goes to work in the morning because we as a Nation will be going; not just one man.
I think that kind of woke people up and grasped our imaginations. We were all looking around the next and saying how am I going to get engaged in this? It was a very exciting and of course a great example of how something like that takes place and occurs.
JESSE: It really is. It’s amazing. Toward the end of the book, after you’ve shared all the details about what goes in to the guide, you boil the whole thing down to a single concept; an overriding responsibility of okay we’ve talked about a lot of specifics but there’s one thing to keep in mind….
TERRY: The one thing that is true and is a constant throughout all of my work was in the subtitle of the first edition of this book. It was the Incredible Speaker, The Authentic Leader. The word authenticity has been core in everything that I’ve done. In fact, when I wrote the first edition, the word authentic and leadership only appeared in one book and it was actually out at the University of Minnesota by a man who’s inspired me all of my live. His name is Robert Terry. Since then, unfortunately, the word has become a cliché. I went on to Google just before I started this edition and Googled the term authentic leadership and there were a million 800 thousand hits. Shortly before I started the manuscript I was at a conference where my own table, when asked by the moderator to take one word out of the leadership lexicon and throw it away, they choose authentic. It’s become a cliché. But it’s so important that we reach inside of ourselves and know who we are and bring that forward in the world. That sounds like a spiritual concept and it is. I really believe we’re here with a purpose; that we discover that and that we play it out and in that we fulfill our life and find our greatest happiness. I think that’s true of leaders. Once they can discover who they are, discover what matters to them and then begin to express that and stay on that track of being authentic and being themselves, that’s the greatest gift. The rest of it is just the tools and skills to make it happen. Authenticity continues, for me, to be the core of the realm.
JESSE: I love the way you put it in the book. You say your overriding responsibility as a leader is to be present in the communication rather than beside it. Back at my earlier question to you about how does a personal communication guide fit with an organizational communication strategy for a given change effort, I think that describes it pretty well. You may go through the steps of defining the steps of the change we’re going to do and what are the key messages we need to send about that but all that is rather hollow and impersonal. Creating this guide makes sure that you, as a leader when you are communicating and leading the actual change, you are truly present in all of this instead of being beside the communication tactics that are taking place.
TERRY: Jesse, you’ve put it better than anyone I’ve ever heard. That’s exactly right. Of course it’s that presence that’s so attractive to other people that inspires them. When they meet someone who knows who they are and actually can articulate it in the context of the work they do in the world, that’s inspiring. I might say you’re one of those people. I’ve really enjoyed this interview.
JESSE: Thanks Terry. I have too. Again, a written Personal Communication Leadership Guide can help eliminate fuzzy thinking so you can lead a change effort with greater clarity and greater passion. The basic components of a Personal Communication Leadership Guide are:
- Establishing confidence and building trustworthiness
- Creating shared context
- Declaring and describing the future
- Committing to action
Terry Pearce, author of the new edition of the best-selling book Leading Out Loud, thanks for joining us today.
TERRY: My pleasure Jesse. I hope we get a chance to connect on the road sometime. It’d be fun to work with you.
Link to podcast episode: EL 37: How to Engage Others in Creating the Future | with Terry Pearce