The Perspiration of Inspiration

an excellent CEO

16th U.S. President

Abe Lincoln had a way with words – a better way than most of us do. But that shouldn’t keep us from getting better at using our own words to inspire.

It’s difficult to motivate employees or customers to change. To change their perception, or perhaps to change their behavior. Maybe you want employees to commit to always deliver the highest quality product or service. Or you want them to follow your six-step closing process. Maybe you want your customers to turn to your company for more of their purchases. Or you want them to try a new product or service you’ve introduced.

With your employees, you probably have a very familiar relationship. You know them very well, and they know you. It’s a little like a family. You don’t really hear each other all the time. There are a variety of reasons why customers don’t hear you so well, one of which might be that you have a very familiar relationship.

Have you ever heard that change begins with you, the CEO? You change, they change. Your employees might not see you as an inspiring speaker or writer. (Not to mention that you might not see yourself as an inspiring speaker or writer.) So change! An inspirational note or word from you once in a while will catch them unaware and they might really listen.

Almost every American finds Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address inspiring. A speech of this historical significance can teach any leader something about inspiration. Lincoln’s goals probably included changing his audience’s perception of the tragedy represented by the Gettysburg battlefield. I’ll bet you recall some of the words he chose to speak.

Lincoln spoke of “a new nation, conceived in liberty”. In speaking about those who perished at Gettysburg, he referred to “that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion”. He concluded this short speech with “…government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Scholars tell us that Lincoln’s vocal emphasis in those concluding phrases was not on each of the three prepositions (of the people, by the people, and for the people) as I learned it, but rather on the word people – in each of the three phrases. It makes a difference.

He chose his words carefully and spoke them with attention to detail. Legend has it that Lincoln drafted these words on the back of an envelope during his journey to the battle site. Regardless of where he wrote his speech, I’ll bet he invested a significant effort in the selection of words and the preparation for speaking those words. Creating anything of value requires hard work.

As you consider those areas where you really need to inspire someone to take action or to modify their behavior, commit to investing some time in choosing words that inspire. Then, if those words are going to be spoken by you, take a few minutes to consider exactly how you will speak them in order to achieve the impact you desire.

It’s worth the time to prepare. You already know that most of what you say or write to your employees or customers does not inspire change. And you’re not Abe Lincoln. But if you surprise them with something more articulate than they’ve grown accustomed to, you might be surprised at the results.

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