“I don’t get these people today,” she said. “What motivates them is not what motivates me.”

“Bingo! They are motivated by something other than what motivates you,” I said. “They’re not buying what you and your CEO are selling, but they’re waiting in line for what Apple’s CEO sells them.”

Last week, I shared part of an experience I had with a frustrated leader who had just discovered that her followers weren’t actually following: team members had tuned out during an important address by the CEO. As the leader and I spoke about the rejection, I emphasized that the problem wasn’t the message, but the delivery.

The rest of our conversation is an excellent introduction to how to better deliver and––most importantly––inspire an audience:

“So why is it that the Apple CEO can get your people’s attention?” I asked her. “Why can he get them to spontaneously clap when he announces a new development or change, while your CEO can’t even get them to tune in?”

“Because what we’re selling does not matter to them,” she said. “It does not motivate them. It doesn’t move them.”

“That’s it!” I replied. “You’ve hit it right on the head. It does not move them.”

I went on to explain that in the modern workplace, people are motivated by emotion and social connection more than by systems and programs. A CEO who expects to motivate people with initiatives and programs will find few followers.

I added, “People don’t by the iPhone because it is the best phone or the best deal. Heck, there are phones that are arguably better than the iPhone, some lower in cost. What people are buying when they purchase the iPhone is social connection: They are now part of the in-crowd––the ‘Apple community.’ That connection gives them a sense of belonging and significance––two very basic emotional needs all human beings have.

“There are emotions associated with all purchases. And selling and leading have that in common: Today, if a leader wants to inspire her team, she must touch people emotionally and connect with them socially.”

Then I shared this Tony Robbins quote with her:

To be able to influence the thoughts, the feelings, the emotions, and the actions of another human being––that’s what leadership is

[…] and quality leadership (is when) you’re looking to influence those thoughts, feelings, emotions, and actions for a greater good, not just for yourself.

The leader with whom I was having the discussion came back with great questions. “I understand your points,” she said. “They make sense. But how can I inspire people who get excited by their cell phones? I’m not Tony Robbins, and I never will be.”

I decided that instead of explaining how to inspire one’s followers, I should first have the leader experience what being inspired looks and feels like by showing her this short video.

After we watched the clip, we kept talking.

“As you watched this video, what did you notice about this little follower?” I asked. “How would you describe him as he observed his leader?”

“The leader had his full attention,” she said.

“What tells you that?”

“He had a visceral reaction to what was being said,” she explained. “He was hanging on every word. He was with the leader.”

“Was he emotionally involved?” I asked. “Was he feeling what was being said as much as understanding it?”

“Absolutely. It was as if his body was dancing with the leader and responding to everything he was hearing. He was leaning forward and his eyes were wide open, as though he wanted to be sure not to miss a single moment of what he was observing.”

“Excellent. I agree with all you’ve said,” I replied. “But there are a few more things that every leader has to look for that signal to her that she’s reaching her people emotionally––that she’s capturing their hearts and minds. It’s in this video. What is it?”

“Was it the part where he clinched his fist and said, ‘Yes!’?”

“Why is that a critical moment in this interaction between leader and follower?”

“It seemed at that moment, the follower made the choice to join the leader––to send her a signal that said, ‘I’m with you.’”

“I could not have said it any better,” I replied. “That’s exactly what every leader is looking for from followers: You want a clear signal they’re with you, that they are committed to you and your vision, and that you can count on them to help you realize it.”

The leader came back with an important caveat. “But he is just a toddler,” she said. “No adult will ever react like that. My people will never wear their emotions on their sleeves the way a child does. It’s a shame they can’t be as open and honest with their feelings as this little guy. It’d be a lot easier for me to know where I stand.”

“I agree,” I said. “Unfortunately, this little person will have any resemblance of authenticity schooled out of him before he reaches middle school.” I paused, thinking of Harry Chapin’s hauntingly wonderful song “Flowers are Red. “The adults that you lead have been trained to be emotionally stunted. And because outward demonstrations of commitment and emotion are so discouraged in the workplace, business leaders must learn to notice the more subtle signals people give.”

I ended our coaching session by suggesting that the leader spend the next few weeks closely observing how she influences the feelings and emotions of her people. I encouraged her to pay close attention to feedback she can glean by noticing every individual’s:

  • eyes
  • eyebrows
  • mouth
  • nose
  • head
  • hands
  • fingers
  • arms
  • legs
  • feet
  • overall posture
  • audible feedback (grunts, snickers, sniffles, coughs, yawns, hmm’s, etc.)

I also urged her to notice how she is feeling as she notices her people. A leader can learn as much about how her people are responding from her own response to them as she can by observing their responses to her.

As I anticipated, the leader resisted my suggestion. Instead, she pushed me to give her a checklist on how to motivate and move people emotionally. I explained that before she could make use of any techniques, she needed to develop her ability to sense the feelings and emotions of her people first. I asserted, “The simple act of closely observing your people and really noticing their reactions and how they are making your feel will do more to develop your capacity to inspire them than any presentation tool or technique. Through this practice, you will become skilled at sensing who they are being and how they are feeling; and as you do, your innate capacity as a human being to reach them and touch them emotionally will come forth, almost effortlessly.”

Before leaders can learn how to inspire, they must learn what an inspired adult looks, sounds, and feels like, and develop a heightened empathy for others. Without that clarity and connection, how would you know whether a technique for inspiring followers is working or not?

Build a strong foundation––you’ll never regret it. Are you All-In?