Inspiring vision, part 6: Call on higher principles, values, or ideals

As well as telling your audience what you want to create, another important part of inspiring them to move to action is to explain why that matters.

When John F Kennedy announced America’s plan to go to the moon, he not only described what they were intending to do, he also explained why:

“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.”

In 1771, it was a disagreement over tax that triggered the Boston Tea Party. But it was the underlying principle (of whether Great Britain had the right to tax its colonies) that drove and sustained America’s War of Independence. And it was principles, not tax rates, that were enshrined in the eventual Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights… That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.”

It was also principles (of liberty, equality, fraternity) that inspired the French Revolution. And it was principles (“No person may be held indefinitely without trial”) that led Britain’s barons to stand up to their bully king and demand the new laws of Magna Carta.

People take action to uphold principles.

A company executive once told me that, when BP introduced its Beyond Petroleum rebranding initiative, management were astonished by the positive impact it had on the morale, energy, and enthusiasm of their people. Given the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, this momentum was clearly not sustained. But the opportunity was there, even if it was not fully grasped. Principles, values, and ideals generate enthusiasm and raise productivity.

Being clear on why the vision matters is probably the feature most lacking from corporate visions today. It is also the one key addition that would make the most difference to inspiration and performance.

So why does your vision matter? Why should I care? Who or what is it for? What are the purpose and values you defined in Chapter 5? How will following your vision contribute to what it means for me to live a worthwhile life? How will it help me to become the 86-year-old person I want to become?

If you can articulate all this, in ways that make sense to your audiences, then they will help you build your vision — because in doing so they will be building themselves.

Adapted from Inner Leadership.

Photo By NASA Goddard Space Flight Center via

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