Northwind Pharmaceuticals

Evangelism for Aspirational Leaders

leader as evangelist
The test of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.  – James Buchanan


Guy Kawasaki effectively converted (pun intended!) the term “evangelist” to the business world by embracing the concept as a metaphor for telling the “good news” of Apple and later, his own ventures.  Evangelism evokes a powerful image of on-the-ground, among-the-people missionary work focused on helping others “see the light”.  In Kawasaki’s world, evangelism is about telling others the good news of your product or company and converting them to believers and customers.

Though a religious concept by definition, evangelism as a model offers some compelling lessons for the secular world and business leaders everywhere.  Recent work I’ve completed in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program has led me to a number of realizations regarding leadership and the opportunities we all have to impact those around us.  More than simply creating customers, the leader as evangelist is about bringing your message to others, inviting them to join your cause, converting them to a shared mission, and showing them the way to success.  To me, this sounds like great leadership.

Announce the Mission

As leaders, we begin building a strong, effective team by creating a vision of the future and a pathway that is compelling enough to attract others to our mission.  The fist step in committing to our purpose is sharing it, communicating it to the world around us.  For businesses that have been around for a while, this can be a huge challenge. Why?  Because you have to look at your mission in a new way.  You have to share your purpose and believe it is more than just lip service.  If you don’t, no one else will.  I recently watched a presentation by Dan Pink that talks about what motivates us.  He says that, after a point, money actually reduces motivation and that purpose is a primary motivator.  As the leader, you have to be willing to put yourself and your purpose out there – you must announce it so others know where you are going.

Issue the Call

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to participate in a “Walkshop” with Dr. Dan Miller covering some historical ground relative to key decision points that Benjamin Harrison faced on a pivotal day for him during the Civil War.  On this particular day in 1862, Indiana Governor Oliver Morton asked Harrison to step-up and take a leadership role to help recruit soldiers for the war effort.  Morton issued the call and Harrison responded.  Our success as leaders revolves around our ability to recruit others to our team.  In our less dramatic days, we walk through recruiting, interviewing, testing, and evaluation processes.  Along the way and at the right moment, we have to issue the call to key players and invite them to join our journey.

Create Disciples

Asking key players to join your team is not enough.  In true evangelical form, you must create disciples who share your passion for the mission and vision of your organization.  They have to buy-in to the purpose.  Why? There are many people willing to trade time for money.  That’s OK, there are also many organizations that are happy to put bodies in positions to get work done.  Is this your organization?  If you are trying to build something special, grow fast, create extraordinary value or simply want to be the best, then it is not enough to fill positions.  You have to convert potential employees to believers who want to join your cause for reasons more than just a paycheck.  Even if you don’t plan to change the broader universe, show how you plan to change his or her world and your immediate world along the way.

Show the Way

Great leaders do more than talk about the “way.”  They show it.  In a recent discussion with a friend and adviser, I was challenged to look beyond the structured training processes we have in place to orient new employees.  She reminded me that it isn’t about checking the boxes on our orientation list, my focus needs to be on building a pathway to success; theirs, mine, ours.  I think Kawasaki’s form of evangelism applies here.  Showing your team members the way means giving them everything they need to be successful, showing them what success looks like, walking the path with them, and getting out of the way when necessary.  A key part of this step is defining success for each employee and investing in it: time, training, tools etc.  Show the way by being visible and present in their world while reinforcing the purpose and pathway that attracted them in the first place.

For the aspirational leader, evangelism offers a powerful model for an organic, hands-on, mission-driven style that will serve to attract and inspire like-minded team members. It doesn’t require charismatic speeches or hyperbole-laden claims on the future.  Aspirational leaders need to embrace their organizational mission and approach it from first principles; this will draw the right people and reinforce the central themes of purpose and values.  It doesn’t have to be dramatic but evoking a sense of the possible and offering a path forward will be critical to getting the right players on board and keeping them engaged.

Ultimately you have to answer three questions: 1) Where are we going? 2) How will we get there?  3) What’s in it for me?  Evangelize your mission and create converts.  The journey will become more compelling for your team and purposeful for you.

NOTE: This post was inspired by Fr. Guy Roberts, Pastor of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, Indianapolis, Indiana.

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