Inspiring vision, part 2: make it Relevant to your audience

In a time of change, your ability to create an inspiring vision is what will draw people to your project, motivate them to stay, and inspire them to deliver results.

There is no fixed template for doing this: no two inspiring leaders are the same. But just as every great painting is formed from the same basic colours, and every great piece of music comes from the same basic notes, so every great vision is formed from the same seven basic building blocks, combined and arranged in different ways.

The second of these blocks is to make your vision relevant for your audience.

This is about more than just speaking a language your audience understands, describing issues they care about, or appealing to principles they believe in. As Henry Ford once said:

“Nobody at work is apathetic except those who are in pursuit of someone else’s objective.”

This building block is about showing your audience how they have an objective that is in line with yours.

Empathise with your audience. What are they thinking about? What are they feeling? Put yourself in their shoes and then use a mix of logic and emotion to help them shift.

Metaphor can then be a good way to help people reframe the way they see a situation. When the process of obtaining democracy in Burma was moving too slowly, many people wanted to take direct action. Democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi used metaphor to convince them to maintain a non-violent approach. “If you look at the democratic process as a game of chess,” she said, “there have to be many, many moves before you get to checkmate. And simply because you do not make any checkmate in three moves does not mean it’s stalemate… This is what the democratic process is like.”

Some companies have used this approach to rewrite their mission statements. Starbucks, for example, sees its mission not as “To sell the best coffee in the world” but “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.” Nike expresses its mission not as “To be the global leader in the sporting goods industry” but “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. (*If you have a body, you are an athlete.)”

Whether or not these reframings translate into improved results depends not only on how well customers react, but also on other audiences such as employees. That, in turn, will depend on whether the rhetoric is translated into new actions, attitudes, and behaviours. And this brings us to the two final ways in which you can achieve this building block: your body language and the way you dress.

When Queen Elizabeth I was facing her ultimate threats (invasion from abroad and death threats from her own countrymen) she went to speak to her army. She did two things that communicated her message without saying a word. First, she dressed in armour, unheard of for a woman. Then she left behind her company of bodyguards and rode slowly through a dangerous mass of several thousand heavily armed soldiers with an escort of just four men and two page boys. Eyewitnesses said she rode “like some Amazonian empress… full of princely resolution.”

Without speaking a word she showed that she was not afraid of the threat from home, and that she had the strength and determination to counter the threat from abroad. Her audience saw that and responded.

Your audience will not remember everything you tell them but they will remember how you make them feel. This building block is about shaping those feelings.

Adapted from Inner Leadership.

Photo By The U.S. National Archives via

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