Inspiring Others: Motivation Is a Skill That Can Be Learned
“I’m no orator,” Theodore Roosevelt once said, “and in writing I’m afraid I’m not gifted at all. … If I have anything at all resembling genius it is the gift for leadership.”
There was nothing attractive about Roosevelt. He stood no taller than five feet, nine inches, and was built like a barrel. His blue eyes squinted out nearsightedly through pince-nez, and his brown mustache framed teeth so large and white they sometimes frightened friends as well as enemies. His voice was high-pitched, even squeaky.
Yet, the vivid force of his character and personality, his unabashed, contagious joy in taking charge made the difference. He was a leader of monumental proportions. A political foe called him “a steam-engine in trousers.” A British visitor thought him comparable only to Niagara Falls among the natural wonders of the New World. His ability to lead-and the rugged, restless, constitution that went along with it-was not really a gift at all, but a hard-won achievement. To an extraordinary degree, Teddy Roosevelt was his own creation.
Elected as U.S. President at age 42, he was just 50 when he left the White House, and only 61 when he died. As the pallbearers carried his coffin through the snow-covered trees to a hilltop grave at Oyster Bay, and the family followed along behind it, a New York police captain said to his sister: “Do you remember the fun of him, Mrs. Robinson? It was not only that he was a great man, but, oh, there was such fun in being led by him.”
I would like to be a leader like that: one whom my constituents would have fun in following. As I have studied leadership-the common denominator of organizations, churches, and families living on the cutting edge-I have discovered that being an effective leader is neither easy nor accidental. Effective leaders are made not born. They are those rare individuals who know where they are going, communicate that purpose to others, and fuel the fires that bring others alongside of them. They are truly a joy to follow.
The people who make an impact on the world are not necessarily geniuses, or the best looking, or the most talented, but those who can inspire others to action. Nehemiah had that remarkable ability to influence and inspire and rally people to action. “But now I told them, ‘You know full well the tragedy of our city; it lies in ruins and its gates are burned. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and rid ourselves of this disgrace!’
“Then I told them about the desire God had put into my heart, and of my conversation with the king, and the plan to which he had agreed.
“They replied at once, ‘Good! Let’s rebuild the wall!’ And so the work began” (Neh. 2:17-18 LB).
Remember these people in a difficult situation. The only difference was one man with God’s vision who motivated others to put their hearts into the work. Nehemiah possessed the quality that could bring out the best in others.
Have you ever wondered at the way certain people bring out the best in others? We have all known them-coaches, teachers, parents, bosses. They seem to possess a knack for inspiring people. But how do they do it? How do they inspire and motivate people?
Here are four actions Nehemiah takes in rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem.
1. Identify with the people. Nehemiah didn’t say “Look at the terrible situation you are in,” but, ” look at the terrible situation we are in. If you want to get someone to look at a problem from your point of view, you don’t stand across from him and yell, you go to his side and identify with him and then gently guide him to your side.
2. Acknowledge the seriousness of the situation. Nehemiah didn’t hide anything from the people or try to sugarcoat the problem. He honestly faced the facts.
3. Appeal for action. Nehemiah challenged the people to specific action: “Let us rebuild the wall.” He had pondered and discussed and investigated and planned and prayed long enough. It was time for action.
4. Assign the tasks. Now the people were ready to hear the plan God had placed in his heart. Nehemiah knew that a few people working alone could not rebuild it. But together, united in force, the task could be accomplished. The effective leader has the ability to cut the problems down to size. This is what Nehemiah did. He assigned each family a task that they could manage.
The Green Bay Packers had been hapless for twelve years before the arrival of Vince Lombardi. The legendary coach turned his team into the dominant NFL team of the 1960s. Why such a phenomenal turnaround? Frank Gifford says it was not Lombardi’s knowledge, since several coaches knew as much about strategy and tactics. Rather, it was his ability to motivate the players. “He could get that extra ten percent out of an individual,” Gifford says. “Multiply ten percent times forty men on the team times fourteen games a season-and you’re going to win.”
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