Formulas Don’t Work
Inc. Magazine this month ran an article about Scott Harrison, the CEO of charity: water (I get the it the old fashioned way, as in the paper-kind that’s sitting on my desk, but I’ve added the link for your reading pleasure), and I find myself absolutely loving this article and being frustrated by it. Scott has succeeded wildly, and everyone wants to know the formula for his success so they can replicate it.
The whole formula-thing bugs me. When I teach Authentic Influence and Executive Presence (which are basically more academic versions of the OnStage Leadership conversation, complete with PowerPoint), my students are often looking for the formula. They just want to be told what to do so they can get people to do what they want (just give us an acronym to memorize!). But they’re missing the whole point of the conversation. To authentically influence, or to have true presence, there is no prescription for success. Every time, in every situation, it’s going to be a little different because you have to be present to the human beings in front of you.
We don’t like that. It’s hard to scale different. But that’s what’s real.
It hasn’t always been this way. Back the days when people had limited access to information, when security was something they knew they could count on, and they would be happy to exchange their time for a paycheck, leaders could pull that off. They would simply learn the tricks-of-the-day, apply them, and people would do what they wanted.
We love that stuff! It’s so comforting to believe that if we simply followed some expert’s “10 steps” then people would do what we’d want and we’d be successful beyond our wildest dreams.
But people are much more wily these days. They want to think for themselves. That complicates matters immensely. They can see through the prescriptions and if they’re not in alignment with what’s real, they don’t work.
In this article, as they dissect what Harrison does that makes him so effective, they highlight that he “Gets Personal” – which, if you know me at all or regularly read my blog, I totally love. But to “get personal” so that you get something back, feels like manipulation to me.
There are those who would say, “Oh Kimberly, you are so naive, of course it’s all manipulation!”
I dare to think differently.
I think people are on to the manipulators of the world these days. I think if the only reason you’re getting personal is to get something back, then you’re ultimately the loser, as you’re missing out on the real win.
One of the things I liked most in the article (but wasn’t really highlighted) was Harrison’s awareness around “paying attention to what get(s) people excited” and I would argue that his ability to understand and appreciate people’s needs has taken him far. I suspect that he didn’t read in some influencer-play-book about getting personal, as much as he sensed that people need to really personally connect.
The problem is, real connection is hard to do. It’s scary as hell. And there’s no guarantee. No wonder it’s not the popular choice.
Because the truth is, we all just want to see a real person who is powerfully connecting. People who are willing to take the mask of manipulation down and show us who they truly are and why they’ve come to care, so we can see ourselves in their stories. People who can help us see why why we should care. Because we want to care. It’s much better than not.
So I encourage you to stop trying to learn the formula to get people to do what you want them to do, and start focusing getting real to connect. So instead of feeling manipulated, they care. And as Scott Harrison has proven, when people care, amazing things are possible.
©OnStage Leadership, 2013
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