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Mastering the Challenges of Leading Change by H. James Dallas

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Chapter 5Craft Messaging That Motivates

Almost all change management methodologies teach that messaging first begins with a leader's vision. He or she needs to communicate the vision. Vision is important, but this up-front emphasis on it creates a trap. You can become so impressed with your own words and ideas that you forget that your first job is to meet people where they are. You have to understand how people are feeling before you can create a shared vision. Feelings, not visions, are where communication and messaging begin. As I learned from my grandmother, “Feel it first in your heart, then pursue it with your mind.” Once you create a shared feeling, you can begin to develop it into a shared mission and vision.

Remember first that what we think of as messaging—mantras, slogans, talking points, and so on—is only part of the story. A leader communicates nonverbally as well, through actions and behaviors. When I first joined Medtronic, people were wary. I was an outsider being asked to make big changes in a company with a well-defined culture and deep internal pride. My first task had to be building trust. Before I could talk about change, I needed to make it clear that I intended to become a real part of the team, not be the “hatchet guy” who zooms in and backs out just as quickly.

The message started with words. At our first town hall meeting, people asked if I was moving to Minnesota from Atlanta. I not only told them we had bought a house rather than leasing one, I also ...

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