Inspiring vision, part 7: Define the needed steps

If you want to create something new in the world, your first task is to inspire people to want to make it happen. You need to create “an inspiring vision.”

Having first shown your audience that they have a problem and painted an inspiring vision of what they could have instead, the one remaining question in their minds is likely to be whether or not they can achieve it. The goal of this building block is to show them that they can by describing the steps that are needed.

In 1944, General George Patton used this building block repeatedly as he sought to motivate the inexperienced Third Army to follow up on the largest seaborne invasion in history: the invasion of occupied France. That task is probably not directly relevant to anything you or I will ever be called upon to undertake, but its scale is far greater. And, in achieving it, Patton gave us a fine example of how to apply this building block. Many people consider his words to be one of the greatest motivational speeches of all time.

Patton wanted to inspire a large group of inexperienced people to do something huge and daunting they had never done before. He achieved this and achieved it well by defining the steps that were needed and by showing that they were achievable.

He did this on three levels:

  • He reminded his team of the general behaviours he expected, such as “constant alertness” and “instant obedience.”
  • He told them stories describing specific examples of the kinds of actions they would be called upon to perform and reminded them that others before them had already done these things: “You should have seen the trucks on the road to Gabès. Those drivers were magnificent. All day and all night they crawled along those son-of-a-bitch roads, never stopping, never deviating from their course with shells bursting all around them.”
  • He told his people how he wanted them to behave emotionally, and reassured them that the role of every one of them was important and that they would not be alone: “An army is a team,” he said. “It lives, eats, sleeps, and fights as a team. This individual hero stuff is bullshit.”

The language Patton used might not be appropriate for your audience but it was entirely appropriate for his audience and for the task he was calling on them to undertake. It was the language of the barracks and he delivered it in a humorous tone, piling example upon example upon example.

John F Kennedy approached this building block in a very different way. Announcing the ten-year plan to put an astronaut on the moon, he defined only the high-level resources that would be assigned:

“During the next five years the National Aeronautics and Space Administration expects to double the number of scientists and engineers in this area; to increase its outlays for salaries and expenses to $60 million a year; to invest some $200 million in plant and laboratory facilities; and to direct or contract for new space efforts over $1 billion from this Center in this City.”

And as a third example, soon after Tim Cook was appointed CEO of Apple, he gave an interview in which he laid out a vision for the company. That vision briefly described the purpose of the firm (“to make great products”) and then focused on the ‘steps’ needed to achieve it. Here’s what he said, with emphasis added:

“We are constantly focusing on innovating. We believe in the simple not the complex. We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make, and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution. We believe in saying no to thousands of projects, so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us. We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot. And frankly, we don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change. And I think regardless of who is in what job those values are so embedded in this company that Apple will do extremely well.”

In this case, the needed ‘steps’ were not actions but rather the ongoing attitudes, competencies, values, and behaviours that will enable the company to succeed no matter what happens.

To summarise, this seventh building block of your inspiring vision can be about defining actions, activities, resources, attitudes, behaviours, competencies, and indeed emotional capacities. These might be defined in detail or at high-level, as initial steps or ongoing activities and competencies. It all depends on what is most appropriate for you, the task you are planning, and what your audience needs.

But defining this block well is essential, because it gives your people the confidence to take the first step.

Adapted from Inner Leadership. Buy the Book

Photo By Dennis Jarvis via

Leave a Reply