Several people have had a very powerful impact on my life. Some have been in formal positions of leadership. Others were peers or colleagues of the same rank. All have had common attributes: They were people of character and goal oriented.
When our son was in first grade, he had a problem learning to read. The school authorities asked for permission to perform some diagnostic tests. My wife and I agreed. Later, the results revealed he did not have any learning disabilities. Their conclusion was that he was lazy and needed inspiration.
His teacher had a large class. She promised that if I would inspire him to read, she would do a good job of teaching him to do so.
A few days later I saw him playing on the floor of the den with his Hot Wheels set. His favorite car was a black model that looked similar to a Corvette. He called it his Vette, and explained it was the fastest car. Suddenly, an idea occurred to me. I asked him what kind of car he wanted to drive when he was old enough. He quickly replied, A Vette. I told him I would help him with a plan that would make that possible. I had his attention.
The Vette Staircase
I got a blank piece of paper. I drew a small box in the upper-right corner and drew a crude car inside, explaining it was a Vette. I drew a small stick man in the lower-left corner and explained it represented him. I showed him that on the paper, the Vette was far beyond his reach and that he needed a staircase to get to it.
I then began to ask him a series of questions. Why don t you buy one today? He replied that he didn t have enough money. I created a box attached and diagonal to the Vette box. In that box I drew a dollar sign. I explained that having sufficient money was a step toward buying a Vette.
I asked him why he lacked enough money. He responded that he didn t have a job. I drew another stair and box connected to the money and labeled it job. I asked him why he didn t have a good job. He said he was too little, and then after some thought, indicated he would probably have to go to the big school I talked about to get a really good job. I drew another stair and labeled it college.
He began to get the picture. The stairs were extending down toward the stick man representing him. I asked him if we could go today and enroll him in college. He said he first had to go to the school where the big boys attended; I drew another stair and labeled it high school.
I continued my questioning and soon had a series of stairs, including junior high and the remaining grades of his elementary school. Close to the stick man was the second-grade box that began the staircase to the Vette.
Connecting Desire with the Goal
I asked him, Why don t I go with you to school tomorrow and ask your teacher if she will please put you into the second grade so you can begin your climb to your car? He said he was certain she would not do that. When I asked why, he replied that he had to learn to read first. I quickly drew the stair in front of the stick man and labeled it read.
I told him it appeared that reading was the first step on the staircase to the Corvette. He picked up the paper and looked at it intently. I could track his eyes. He looked from the read box to the Vette box; somehow the two were connected.
Three weeks later I received a telephone call from his teacher. She wanted to know what I had done to inspire him to read. She explained he had made amazing progress in just three weeks and was nearly at the head of the class in reading. I replied, Vette, which took some explaining.
This true story reveals several factors about goal orientation and leadership. The challenge of a leader is to connect something the follower deeply desires to something the leader is asking the follower to do. In this story, my son wanted a Corvette. I was asking him to learn how to read. Once I connected the two, he became highly motivated and took ownership of the goal. He wanted to read because he wanted a Corvette someday. Incidentally, he eventually did own one.
Goal Orientation at Your Level
Here are some practical steps of application:
- Select a few people who you want to influence and make a positive difference in their lives.
- Discover what they truly desire to achieve or accomplish.
- Connect what you are asking them to do with what they deeply desire. (Everyone wants recognition.)
- Stand by to coach, encourage and support them in their quest.
If you do all of the above, you will inspire them—on point.