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The Defining Moment: The Straw That Stirs The Drink Of Motivational Leadership (Part One)

Decades ago, as a rifle platoon commander in the Marines, I saw leaders who could motivate troops to do extraordinary things -- and leaders who couldn't get the troops to do much at all. I wondered what was the difference between the successful and unsuccessful leaders; and if that difference be taught.

Those two questions have stayed with me throughout my civilian life as I have worked with thousands of leaders worldwide for the past 21 years.

Now, at last, I can say I've answered those questions. I've cracked the code.

The difference between successful and unsuccessful leaders is the successful ones are able to engage in deep, human, emotional relationships with the people they lead, the unsuccessful ones don't. It's as simple as that, yet it's more complicated than you think.

The power of those relationships has been demonstrated since the dawn of history. In all cultures, whenever people needed to do great things, one thing had to take place: A leader had to gather those people together and speak from the heart. In other words, deep, human, emotional relationships had to be constituted for great things to be accomplished.

Look at it this way: Leaders themselves must be motivated, that's an absolute truth. If you're not motivated, you shouldn't be a leader. But the burning challenges in leadership are, Can you transfer your motivation to others so they are as motivated as you? And can you translate that motivation into great results? Great leaders successfully meet those challenges.

There are three ways to transfer your motivation to others. Give them information, make sense, and make your experience their experience.

The most powerful is the latter, having your experience become their experience. One way to make this happen is with the "defining moment" technique.

This entails having the leader's experience become the people's experience. It can be the most effective method of all, because when the speaker's experience becomes the audience's experience, a deep sharing of emotions and ideas, a communing, can take place.

Generally, people learn in two ways - through the intellect and through experience. In our school system, the former predominates, but it's the latter that is most powerful in terms of inducing a deep sharing of emotions and ideas, because our experiences, which can be life's teachings, often lead us to profound awareness and purposeful action.

Look back at your schooling. Which do you remember most, your book learning or your experiences, your interactions with teachers and students? In most cases, people say their experiences made the strongest impressions on them; they remembered them long after book knowledge had faded.

This is where the defining moment comes in. Its function is simple: to provide a communion of experience with you and the people you lead, so those people will be as motivated as you are to meet the challenges you face.

The process of developing a defining moment is simple, too: put a particular experience of yours, a defining moment, into sharp focus, and then transmit that focused experience into the hearts of the audience so they feel the experience as theirs. Out of that shared feeling they can be ardently motivated to take action for results. It's easy, and it's a game changer.

But if you don't get the defining moment right, it can backfire. In fact, you could wind up having people motivated against you. So follow carefully as I show you the precise steps in developing and transmitting defining moments.

Take the first step in mastering the defining moment. Review experiences from your past. Don't try to figure out how to use them or how they relate to developing and communicating a defining moment.

They needn't be wrenching, shattering experiences; everyday experiences will do. They don't need to have taken place recently; you might want to look back upon experiences from your youth. Finally, they don't need to have taken place in an organizational context. Look at every aspect of your life. Any of your experiences, at any time, anywhere, can make a good defining moment.

Make sure, however, that it is your experience (I'll say more about this in Part Two.) and be aware of the difference between personal and private experiences. Usually, our personal experiences are those we can share with others, and our private experiences are those we want to keep to ourselves. The dividing line between personal and private is embarrassment. If you would in any way be embarrassed talking about the experience with others - don't use it.

In Part Two, I will show you how to put together a defining moment to communicate.

2005 © The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. - All Rights Reserved

PERMISSION TO REPUBLISH: This article may be republished in newsletters and on web sites provided attribution is provided to the author, and it appears with the included copyright, resource box and live web site link. Email notice of intent to publish is appreciated but not required: mail to: brent@actionleadership.com

The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. ? and for more than 20 years has been helping leaders of top companies worldwide get audacious results. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get a free white paper: "49 Ways To Turn Action Into Results," at http://www.actionleadership.com

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