Dr. John C. Maxwell has been a public speaker and motivational teacher for more than 50 years. In his new book, The 16 Undeniable Laws of Communication, he shares everything he’s learned from a lifetime of communication. This blog post is adapted from the book’s sixteenth chapter, “The Law of Results: The Greatest Success in Communication is Action.”
Good leaders want to influence people to take action, make changes, and achieve goals to make the world a better place. Good communicators want the same thing. That’s one of the reasons good communication skills are foundational for effective leadership. If you can’t cast vision, show people a way forward, give them a roadmap, and inspire them to action, you will have a difficult time leading them.
Think about the communication skills of Winston Churchill challenging the people of England to never give up and never surrender during World War II. Or Martin Luther King Jr. advocating for the rights of oppressed Black people and sharing his dream for a better world. Or John F. Kennedy’s speech announcing the intention to put a man on the moon. Or Nelson Mandela’s speech for his presidential inauguration seeking to unite South Africa. What distinguished these powerful leaders and communicators from other, more ordinary speakers? They mobilized people. Their communication led to action.
Effective leaders and communicators move their listeners to make change. And if you want to take your leadership and your communication to the highest level, that’s what you need to make your goal. The greatest success in both is action.
Use Communication to Create a Bridge
Even if your message is compelling and your audience feels motivated and empowered, you still need to help people cross over from inaction to action. How can you do that? By building verbal bridges to where they want to go.
1. PUT THE BRIDGE RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM.
A bridge is of no use to anyone if they can’t find it. When you communicate, make action as easy to access as possible.
Sometimes it’s as simple as giving directions. Malcolm Gladwell writes about this in his book The Tipping Point when he describes an experiment conducted by psychologist Howard Leventhal at Yale University. Leventhal wanted to see how many of his seniors he could convince to receive a tetanus vaccine at the university’s student health center, but because he was a psychology professor, he was also interested in seeing how their motivation would be impacted by different approaches to getting them there. As part of his experiment, he gave students different versions of a seven-page booklet about tetanus. One was a “high-fear” version with graphic descriptions and color photos of people suffering from the disease, while the other simply included information.
What surprised him was that only 3% of his students took action to receive the shot – and equally from both groups. So he did the experiment again, but this time he included a map of the campus with the location of the health center circled, and he included the center’s hours of operation. The result was that 28% of his students got the shot, with the students again coming equally from both groups. All they needed was someone to put the bridge right in front of them so that they would be more likely to use it.
2. START THEM AT THE BEGINNING.
To get people moving, you have to show them the end result and paint the picture of their better future if they act, but that can also create a problem. After people are focused on the end result, they may not easily see the steps needed to get them there. So show them. Go back to the beginning, show them the first step, and encourage them to take it immediately.
Musicians often say that the hardest part of practicing is taking the instrument out of the case. That’s certainly not because the action itself is difficult. It’s because it means stopping whatever else you’re doing, getting yourself up, and getting started. Once they are holding the instrument and they start playing, that’s when it becomes enjoyable.
As a leader, you need to convince people to open the case.
If you can get them started, they will be engaged and begin working out the next steps as they complete the first one. What motivational speaker Joe Sabah said is true: “You don’t have to be great to start. But you do have to start to be great.”
3. SHOW THE VALUE OF SMALL STEPS.
People often think that they need to take a big step to make a significant change. They devalue small steps and often tell themselves those don’t count or aren’t worth the effort. “I might as well just give up,” they tell themselves. But that’s simply not true. Nothing happens until something happens. Naeem Callaway, founder and CEO of Get Out The Box, said, “Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life. Tiptoe if you must but take a step.”
4. REMIND THEM THAT WHAT THEY DO IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN HOW THEY FEEL.
It’s reasonable for anyone to feel fear when they are taking new steps. But they cannot improve if they let that fear keep them from acting. Help people understand they shouldn’t wait until they feel good before they act; instead, they should act first, and that will help them to feel good. Successful people keep moving forward even as they make mistakes, experience losses, and feel discouraged. They don’t quit! Nobody gets much done unless they are willing to take a step before they think they’re ready.
H3: 5. HELP THEM DISCOVER THAT ACTION BUILDS CONFIDENCE.
In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie teaches that inaction breeds doubt and fear, while action breeds confidence and courage. If you can get people to take any first step of action, any small step, they will begin to experience the power of confidence building in their lives.
Author and speaker Jim Rohn put it this way:
Any day we choose we can develop a new discipline of doing rather than neglecting. Every time we choose action over ease or labor over rest, we develop an increasing level of self-worth, self-respect, and self-confidence. In the final analysis, it is how we feel about ourselves that provides the greatest reward from any activity. It is not what we get that makes us valuable, it is what we become in the process of doing that brings value to our lives. It is activity that converts human dreams into human reality, and that conversion from idea into actuality gives us a personal value that can come from no other source.
The more action people take, the more confident they can become. Every time they act and it gives them positive results, they taste success and know they can succeed again in the future. If they act and fail, they realize that failure isn’t fatal or final, and they gain the confidence to try again. Either way, taking action is a win.
Ready to put your communication skills on another level?
Everyone has a message to share. Whether you want to improve your ability to inspire employees, speak at PTA meetings, report to a board of directors, teach students, deliver a sermon, address a small group, speak from a stage, or communicate to an arena full of people, this book can help you. Go here and order John Maxwell’s 16 Undeniable Laws of Communication for yourself today!