Sending powerful and influential leadership messages



It is possible for leaders to send out high potential, powerful and influential leadership messages without much fanfare.  In an earlier post, I had written about how one can alter someone else’s actions by changing one’s own.

Similarly, by putting in an irreversible action or by taking an un-retractable step, you can send out a very powerful message to the person(s) you are committed to influence.  You may be able to reverse the action or retract the step, but it will come at high cost, loss of time and considerable effort.  This will be evident to all as soon as you perform the action.

By taking such a step, you are sending out a clear message that you are committed to the cause and that you are bold enough to the put the first blocks in place.  You know, and they know and everyone else knows that now you cannot (easily) go back.

The game is on.

The following are a few examples of leadership actions and how they influenced the stakeholders and team members for those initiatives:

Project team example

A US company was implementing a major sales and distribution project simultaneously in two countries, one in South America and the other in Eastern Europe.  Both countries were crucial to the long-term market penetration for the company.  While the South American implementation was on track and proceeding smoothly, the one in Europe was lagging behind.  A key member of the project was slacking, not able to put in the effort and consequently being not so communicative.  This led to the other stakeholders getting confused, unsure and reaching a state of panic.

About three weeks before the go-live date, one of the Division Managers at the company (who usually manages US operations) landed in the Eastern European office of the company and chose to work from there.  He arrived unannounced, took up his duties and worked normally.

In just a few days, the European part of the project gained momentum.  People came forward with questions and thoughts because they now had someone in the same time zone who could respond and someone who had the authority to take action.  The Manager’s actions infused the project with tremendous momentum.

The project came back on track and went on to become a resounding success.  The Manager, without any fanfare, simply returned home to his regular operations.

I had the opportunity to interview the Manager and find out the reason for the turnaround.  He mentioned that by showing up in Europe, he was able to send a powerful message to the project team and other company stakeholders.  The message was that he was prepared to get out of the comfort of his home-base and regular operations for the sake of the success of the project.  This enabled the manager to elicit a similar level of commitment and higher productivity from the Eastern European team.

By arriving in Europe without a firm return date, the Manager had taken a step that was not easily (or cheaply) retractable.  His presence made it evident that “failure was not an option”, and that he was in Europe to get the project to succeed, otherwise he will lose face.

When failure is not an option

There are instances of military moves which have elicited tremendous commitment from forces.  In one case the commander burnt the boats that the forces had used to land on the enemy shores, just before starting battle.  The boats were the only means of retreat.  By eliminating that means, the forces got the message that they had to fight or perish.

By burning the boats, the commander sent a power message to his team that failure was not an option.

Crossing the Rubicon

Julius Caesar made a huge infraction in crossing the Rubicon river with his forces.  This was a capital offence, punishable by death in 49 BC.  As soon as infraction occurred, his forces had no option but to capture the southern province which they had set out to conquer.

Upon crossing the river, Caesar is known to have said that the “die is now cast”. 

Crossing the Rubicon has now come to be known as crossing the point of no return.

As a leader, Caesar sent a powerful message to his team (troops) when they passed their point of no return.

Backing your words by action

Continental Airlines had about 4 CEOs in ten years and filed for bankruptcy twice.  But when Gordon Bethune was appointed CEO, he meant serious business.  Gordon laid out a four point plan for re-strategizing and turning around the company.  One component was “open door policy” and he literally threw open his doors.  By leaving his door open, he managed to get people who saw it, to spread the word.

While Gordon had a well-laid out strategy, leaving his office doors wide open was a very symbolic, initial step that made everyone take notice.

This sent a powerful message across the company and ensured that employees took notice.  The Continental turnaround, “From Worst to First” under Gordon’s leadership is a business classic. 

Effect of influential messages

When leaders take actions that indicate commitment, the effect of such actions can influence stakeholders all around.  Customers, employees, team members, investors and stockholders and even competitors take notice and are influenced.

As a leader, one such message can convey a very high level of commitment to the cause and totally change the course of the mission. 

To practice effective leadership, look out for opportunities where you can send out such messages and experience the result.