Sometimes the most powerful concepts are the simplest. Leadership in today’s world is driven by influence and the ability to get people to voluntarily enroll. But how to get people excited enough to enroll?
Plant the flag.
You might have some degree of hierarchical control where you can compel people to do this or that task, but you can’t compel a human being to deeply care about something. People will only rally around a shared objective that they believe in, and believe those around them believe in as well. It is, at that moment, when its important to declare a worthy objective to pursue as a team – an action I refer to as “planting the flag”.
Planting the flag is an action that has been used by both soldiers and settlers to claim land, and “claiming land” is – metaphorically – what leaders do. There are great examples of political leaders planting the flag. One that immediately comes to mind was President John F. Kennedy’s proclamation in 1962:
How does planting the flag work in your world? Here’s an example I run across in my work: You’re the person at a bank responsible for growing overall digital banking usage among your customer base. Your app has a mobile check deposit capability, and the customers who use it love it more than anything else in your app, but the overall percentage of checks that get deposited this way is still only 15%. That means 85% of check deposits involve your customers bypassing your app and driving somewhere to have someone else take a picture of the check for them. It’s crazy.
You know that 15% is bad, and you know you can do better. But how?
You do a much smaller version of what Kennedy did. He didn’t simply blurt out a grand idea to get an applause line, or be one of the many US Presidents after him who issued some unrealistic goal about reducing US dependency on foreign oil. He engaged with the people who knew the odds and challenges, and then he planted the flag on a bold prediction that probably pushed NASA out of their comfort zone. We would send a man to the moon and bring him back before the end of the decade. Wow.
So you educate yourself on what it would take to quickly double your mobile check deposits from 15% to 30% in a short period of time, and make sure you plan with other resources within the bank to hit the target. You quietly explain the benefits and challenges with the bold goal with a few leaders you will depend on to drive that result. You give them a real role in defining what the objective is, and you get their buy-in.
And then you plant the flag – loudly and publicly. You make sure everyone in the bank knows that the goal is to have 30% of all checks deposited via the mobile banking app within 12 months (or whatever the target is you decide on).
I have found that humans don’t really rally toward an objective until you define what the objective is. “Winning people’s hearts and minds” is not a cry that soldiers are able to respond to, but “take that hill” is. “Keep trying to increase mobile check deposit usage” is not a cry that gets people to voluntarily enroll their creativity and late nights, but “30% one year from now” gives them an idea to organize around.
You can apply this to your own world easily enough. Just be sure you think about it, gather support before you declare, and pick the right blend of audacity and realism to establish a goal that excites people. It should be both attainable and hard. As President Kennedy said:
“We choose to go to the moon not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”