The Done Right Podcast
Episode 7

Inspire with Why: How to become a visionary leader

Welcome to the Done Right podcast. I'm Jordan Staples and over the past decade and a half I've been studying how people live successful and satisfying lives, both in and outside of work. And here's what I've learned. People in the workforce who are successful and satisfied are the ones that show up, pitch in, and make an impact in their companies. They are the ones who know how to get stuff done, but do it right. So our mission for this podcast is to deliver insight and inspiration to fuel the way you show up at work today. 

I'm here in Lehi, Utah at Workfront headquarters, and I'm so grateful that you are here to join me for today's episode on inspiring with why: how to become a visionary leader. And I think today we're probably going to even talk about why you should become a visionary leader. 

So in 2009, many of you are familiar with a man by the name of Simon Sinek. He delivered the talk of his life for TEDx, Puget Sound. This is his TEDx talk that went viral, has been viewed, to date, probably even more than the 50 million times I was able to see on TED's site and on YouTube. Many of you are familiar with his message in his book on starting with “why” and the golden circle. And essentially what I want to do is, for those of you that are a little rusty on maybe the golden circle or kind of what his message is about--starting with why--I'm going to read to you an excerpt from that talk. 

All right, here we go: 

“In the summer of 1963, 250,000 people showed up on the Mall in Washington to hear Dr. King speak. They sent out no invitations and there was no website to check the date. How do you do that? Well, Dr. King wasn't the only man in America who was a great orator. He wasn't the only man in America who suffered in pre-civil rights America. In fact, some of his ideas were bad. But he had a gift. He didn't go around telling people what needed to change in America. He went around and told people what he believed. “I believe, I believe, I believe,” he told people. And people who believed what he believed took his cause, and they made it their own, and they told people. And some of those people created structures to get the word out to even more people. And lo and behold, 250,000 people showed up on the right day at the right time to hear him speak. 

How many of them showed up for him? Zero. They showed up for themselves. It's what they believed about America that got them to travel in a bus for eight hours to stand in the sun in Washington in the middle of August. It's what they believed, and it wasn't about black versus white: 25% of the audience was white. 

Dr. King believed that there are two types of laws in this world: those that are made by a higher authority and those that are made by men. And not until all the laws that are made by men are consistent with the laws made by the higher authority will we live in a just world. It just so happened that the civil rights movement was the perfect thing to help him bring this cause to life. We followed not for him, but for ourselves. By the way, he gave the “I have a dream” speech, not the “I have a plan” speech. 

Listen to politicians now with their comprehensive 12-point plans. They're not inspiring anybody because there are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or authority, but those who lead inspire us. Whether they're individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. And it's those who start with “why” that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others who inspire them.” 

Such a great talk, and that wasn't the whole talk, that was just an excerpt from the end of the talk. But absolutely. In another episode on Making Work Matter, we talked about motivation and certainly talked about some of the principles that Simon's teaching here. But let me actually dig into this leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and let me read you some excerpts from his talk that day. And these are the famous excerpts that you studied in school. Here's Dr. King: 

“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.” 

And certainly, it goes on, and that's part of a larger speech that he gave that day in Washington. 

Here's the punchline for being a visionary leader, one who inspires with “why”. And that is that you and I have got to paint such a vivid picture of the future; we've got to have that clarity of vision and make it feel so real, so viable, so possible, but extraordinary; so hopeful and meaningful and authentic, but practical and pragmatic. We've absolutely got to communicate with a forward-thinking mindset. Think about it. Do you have for your team, for your organization, whatever you're leading, for a project, do you guys lead out with vision? I mean, honestly, for me, I mean, when I think of a vision statement, I think of a company. They're the ones, the executives, and maybe a few consultants, or H.R., or, you know, like they're the ones they're going to come up with a vision statement. They're going to come up with a mission statement. They’re certainly going to help the company really understand what the values are. But it seems to be at the company level. 

But you and I are missing an opportunity here, and I think that this is something that many of you have already adopted. But it's being able to communicate your vision, being able to communicate the “why”. 

The purpose of vision statements:

So as I was digging around on the Internet, here's what I learned from all of you who've written about this topic. The purpose of vision statements is kind of summarized here in a few bullet points:

  1. Focus effort where every significant action we do going forward will ultimately be contributing toward something. 

  2. The vision statement is a memorable and inspirational summary that describes our reason for existence as an organization, one that will help to motivate existing employees and even attract high-quality new ones. 

  3. A vision statement is a succinct statement about what our organization is trying to achieve to help third parties such as investors or the media better understand us.

  4. It's a limiter that helps us to rule out certain opportunities which do not ultimately contribute to our vision. 

OK, so it seems that there's a lot riding on this vision. But let me just simplify it down for all of us to actually take some action here, to actually make steps at becoming a more visionary leader; someone that can really bring purpose and meaning and value to whatever it is you are leading out, whatever the work is, if it is your company, if it is an initiative, if it's a project, your function, whatever that might be. Having vision is not about a statement. It's about a story. 

Storytelling in leadership:

The key to inspiring others with the “why” comes down to storytelling. And I'll tell you, I actually learned this as I received feedback from my manager around what she wanted to see from me. I learned this from one of my managers that reports to me, and him communicating and telling me what he needs for me. I learned this from his team member. I've learned this as I've gotten feedback, the value of being able to tell the story and to give a very clear picture around the “why”.

So let me dig into this with you a little bit. If you all know the name Andrew Stanton, he is one of the most successful writers and storytellers in our day. He is Pixar’s go-to guy when it comes to great storytelling; Toy Story, Finding Nemo and a bunch of others. Here's what he said: 

“Storytelling is… knowing your punchline, your ending, knowing that everything you're saying, from the first sentence to the last, is leading to a singular goal, and ideally confirming some truth that deepens our understandings of who we are as human beings. We all love stories. We're born for them. Stories affirm who we are. We all want affirmations that our lives have meaning. And nothing does a greater affirmation than when we connect through stories. It can cross the barriers of time, past, present and future, and allow us to experience the similarities between ourselves and through others, real and imagined.”

So as this relates to work, people not only want affirmation of what they're doing and that it matters today, but people want to know that the direction that they're going, the work that they're doing on a day-to-day basis, actually matters. So what your story does, what your vision does as you communicate this out, what it allows for is for folks to repeatedly day in and day out, reconnect themselves and get reaffirmed with what they're doing and how it connects with this future that we are articulating. 

Now, let me dig into this a little bit deeper. And those of you that are in the world of sales, you may be very familiar with this, but I read a book last year by Jordan Belfort. And if you guys don't know who Jordan Belfort is, he is the notorious salesman known as the Wolf of Wall Street. So this guy I'm not going to go into his story, but essentially he had not the greatest ethics in the world, and essentially really learned how to manipulate people into purchasing. And he taught his sales force how to go through this process. And he really understands, although leveraged in an unethical manner, he really understands how to inspire people to do things. Now, again, I'm not supporting this guy and his morals or ethics, but he teaches a principle that I want to continue to connect with; that I want to keep driving here. And that is a quote from a talk that he gave a while back, which he says:

“What sales is… is the transfer of emotion. That’s what’s happening when you sell. The primary emotion you are transferring when you sell is certainty… Everything that you say, everything you do, every document you hand them… are all designed to do one simple thing to essentially raise the prospect's level of certainty to as close to “absolute certainty” as possible.”

So he talks about in his book as well how you've got to show up with this level of certainty. So think about this for a minute. Your folks want to feel certainty, and they want to see certainty, and experience certainty, along this journey as they're going with you to execute and realize this vision. So as you are communicating the relevance and the reality of this vision, that is ultimately what you're doing, is that you're providing a level of certainty and you're increasing their level of confidence and certainty that what they are doing is the right thing to do. And more importantly, maybe a better way to phrase that is, you are helping them to understand that what they are doing is successfully contributing toward that vision. 

And let me add this element to it as well. As I was rereading some of the excerpts from his book--from Jordan Belfort’s book--called The Way of the Wolf. He talks about--and it actually was an interview I watched of his a while back where he says there's one distinction from successful people (and he might be talking about wealthy people versus poor people, I don't know). But basically, he's saying there's one distinction from successful people of the world and those who are not. And it’s that the successful people act in the face of fear while those who are not, run away. 

We did an episode on daring greatly, that episode was about courage and Brene Brown's research around courage and some of her tactics around it. And this is absolutely the truth. So you as a leader, your vision, the inspiration around it, where you're connecting with people's beliefs--as Simon Sinek says. Yes. It is about connecting on beliefs. Right? It is about them doing something for themselves. They want to be part of something that is reaffirming their belief system. And I know we're getting into the psychology of it, but here's the thing, your vision needs to be this constant story that just makes the future and the direction that you're going so real, and so tangible, and so clear, that your folks and their anxiety and fear of taking action with you and really applying themselves toward those objectives, is decreased. You're kind of lowering those barriers.

So let me just finish up by giving you an example of what this looks like, and then refer you to a resource to really help you pressure test your story, pressure test your vision. 

Every strong vision is rooted in 4 elements:

So when you think of a vision, a strong vision--my CEO, Alex Shootman, talks about how a vision, a strong vision is rooted in four key elements. 

  1. It's rooted in authenticity and is hopeful. Martin Luther King Jr. absolutely articulated that, and even Simon Sinek about what leadership should look like was successful in telling that story. 

  2. It points beyond the leader. This has to be much bigger than the person who's communicating the story. It can't be about them. It's about us. 

  3. It has to be extraordinary but attainable; folks want to strive for the extraordinary. They want to be pushed. They want to grow. They want to be part of something that matters. And so you have to have it be extraordinary but still attainable.

  4. Regardless of those things, how authentic and real and how relevant it is to everybody and how extraordinary this is, you have to be able to communicate it easily. If it's complicated, they're never going to be able to connect with that story if you can't communicate it clearly. 

Creating your vision:

So here's what I want to do is, I'm going to run through a couple of questions, and maybe a couple of things you need to consider when you are creating your vision. This is all about quotes and excerpts today. I mean, I know we do that a lot, but this is a lot of great stuff around vision and the value of it. So legendary CEO of G.E., Jack Welch had this quote, “good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”

So I want to help you at least create that vision and really come to this place where it's not about a statement, but a story to articulate it. All right. Here we go. Here are some questions that you can answer to start to paint this story, to write this story. 

First is you've got to start off with some sort of an aspirational statement. Right? It's kind of the extraordinary piece or the hopeful piece like, we're going to be the leaders in modern work management by this date, or we're going to engage a million people on our platform by this time, or whatever it might be. Right? Whatever it might be, have some big, audacious goal out there, or some real reason as to the direction, or some place, I should say, as to where you're going. Throw that out there and then you start to kind of paint the details around that. And you need to be clear about what happens if we achieve that vision, like if we are the leaders, for Workfront, in modern work management or like the company's actual vision statement is--this is kind of providing the why--“we exist to help people do their best work so companies can thrive in this digital world”. Ok. Great statement. I really love it. As an employee, I love it. The thing that it needs is the meat around that core statement. Right? It needs that story. So paint the picture of what that future state looks like. Share that vision of what customers are going to be doing, what they're going to be saying, what their experience is going to look like. What is your sales team going to be achieving at that point? What are your competitors going to be saying about you? What is the market going to look at? 

I mean, whatever the details are there about what that world looks like--in storytelling and kind of in fiction writing, there's this term called world-building, this is where you build that world and you provide details about what that looks like. And then the next piece that you want to do, the third question you want to answer is, what does achieving that vision do to our business? What does the impact of achieving that vision do for our business? 

And then some other elements that you can add in is looking at those standard holders in your industry, understand what they're doing. They may be the vision, where you want to get to. Understand what they're doing and articulate that as part of your story. Or you might be with those, you might be the trendsetter; the standard-bearer, if you will. And you want to differentiate yourself. Have that context to your story. Have your customers, have these stakeholders and what they need, what they want, as part of your story. We kind of mentioned that a little bit earlier. I think just to add some more detail here, your competitors, not just your stakeholders, but really your competitors, you need to have urgency in this story. And so really articulating whatever competitive data you have, that can help create that sense of urgency, and that is going to be a key element of that story. 

Again, if you can answer those four or five questions and start to build your vision, create that story, then that is going to start to give you the meat to connect your people to that vision, to that end state, right, to where you want to go. Then you can start to, as we talked about in another episode, make work matter and connect people's strengths and their skills and their experience to making that reality happen. 

Today’s best next action:

So here's what I want you to do is as you first go and start to create this story. Answer those questions, but then I want you to refer back to some resources that we have to pressure test that vision. Because we talked about how your vision is rooted in those four elements and you need to pressure test your vision against those elements. Otherwise, folks won't be able to connect with that vision. Right? Your team won't be able to connect, your boss won't be able to connect with that vision. So if you go to our website,, you're going to find a vision statement exercise that will allow you to pressure test that vision. And this way, in a very practical, real way, you can begin to inspire with “why”, and you can begin to make work matter and really empower people and inspire them to follow you onto an unknown road that you have ahead. If we can just inspire with the “why” through storytelling. 

Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. You can find more information about the topic and continue the conversation at The Done Right podcast is hosted by me, Jordan Staples, the show is produced by Workfront. Our team includes Jeremy Tippetts and Marc Hansen. 

Thanks for listening. And if you like what you hear, rate, and review the show, it helps other people find us. See you next time.