Their Needs, Your Reality

If you want to motivate people to take action for results, you must understand the reality you face.  That reality is THEIR needs, not your needs.  Here is a template to understand those needs.

By Brent Filson - 12/2004

There are two ways leaders get results: (1) Order people to go from point A to point B. (2) Have those people want to go from A to B. Clearly, instilling "want to" in the people is the most effective way of leading.

I’m convinced that the order is the lowest form of leadership, simply because it doesn’t work well over the long run. Like crack cocaine, it may provide short term results but, like the narcotic (and the order is a kind of narcotic), it eventually becomes addictive and destructive.

After all, ordering people about can get their compliance but not necessarily their commitment. And leadership that weakens or kills the commitment of the people is ultimately bankrupt.

But most leaders don’t have a clue as to how to instill "want to" in the people on a consistent basis. This month, I’ll show you one simple but powerful way. It is absolutely necessary -- though hardly, by itself, sufficient.

It’s this: When relating with the people, you have to deal with reality -- not your reality but THE REALITY. And when you are trying to motivate people, THE REALITY is THEIR REALITY.

Most leaders don’t get this. They think that their own needs, their organization’s needs, are reality. That’s okay if you’re into ordering. You simply have to tell people to get the job done. You don’t have to know where they’re coming from. But if you want to motivate them, you must work within their reality, not yours.

I call it playing the game in the people’s home park. There is no other way to motivate them consistently. If you insist on playing the game in your park, you’ll be disappointed in the motivational outcome.

How do you determine their reality ? The best way to analyze those needs is to ask and answer eight questions.

Before you read the questions -- and ultimately, they should not be simply read but burned into your leadership soul -- understand this. You may not know the answers. And that’s okay. Just asking them can help you get a good idea of the reality you may be encountering.

Look at it this way, before an operation, a surgeon may not know precisely what will be found inside the patient, but she has a good idea of what to be looking for and where to look and what is likely to be there.

These questions and their answers will give you a general idea of the people’s reality by showing you what to look for , where to look, and what is likely to be there. Even if you get surprised, as surgeons often are, of course, you’ll still be ahead of the game, being armed with foreknowledge to better handle the unexpected.


A saying in Laos goes right to the heart of all your leadership challenges. "In times of rain, the fish eat the ants. In times of drought, the ants eat the fish." In other words, change happens. However, leaders often miss the point regarding change. The point isn’t that change happens to you -- but that change happens to the other guy. Leaders get so caught up in the change they’re experiencing, they don’t see the change the people are experiencing. So, when answering this question, leave yourself out of the equation. The question isn’t "What is changing for you?" Get the question right: it’s WHAT IS CHANGING FOR THEM?


So, you have a leadership challenge. You need to motivate the people to meet that challenge. You want to talk with them about it. But do they want you talking to them? Leaders often think that people want to hear from them simply because they’re leaders. Horse feathers! In at least three-quarters of your leadership situations, the people don’t want to hear from you. In fact, if you are not many times speaking to people who do not want to hear from you, you’re not leading well enough, you’re not challenging the people enough.

However, just because the people may not want to hear from you does not mean that you accept their attitude. You cannot truly understand their needs unless you see how their needs relate to your being the most important person to speak to them. You establish and validate this importance by bringing solutions to their needs.

In Vietnam, the combat troops generally didn’t want to hear from the generals. Vietnam was pretty much a small-unit war, a war fought by junior officers and the enlisted. The troops wanted to hear from their small-unit commanders, not from the higher ups, because those commanders had the solutions to their needs, i.e. surviving small-unit clashes.

If you come to realize they don’t want to hear from you, it’s not the end of the world. Bad news can be good news in this case.

It’s bad news when you’re unaware, when you’re oblivious to the fact that they don’t want to hear from you. This ignorance keeps you from taking action to change the situation.

It’s good news when you are aware. You realize that they may not want you speaking to them; but now that you know, you can do something about it. You can figure out what their needs are, bring solutions to their needs, show them you are a vital part of those solutions.


Whomever you speak to wants to take action. Yes, they are listening to you, whether they want to hear you or not. But while they are listening, they might also want to take action that has nothing to do with what you’re saying. "My credo," said a master of leadership talks, "Is simply to stand up to be seen, speak up to be hear, and sit down to be appreciated!"

To understand the reality of the speaking situation, understand what action they want to take. For instance, they may be listening to you, but at the same time, they may want you to "sit down and be appreciated." That’s because they may be late for another meeting or a T-time or one of their kid’s Little League games. There may be any number of things that, unbeknownst to you, you are keeping them from doing. Engaging such people may be difficult.

But engage them you must, that is if you want to take meaningful action connected to your leadership. If you know you’re keeping them from doing an important task, you may want to clarify why you are there.

You may say at the beginning of your talk, "I know everybody is ready for a lunch break, but give me a few minutes to give you some ideas on how you can cement your job security -- then we’ll go to lunch."


The Irish saying, "Seeing is believing, but feelings are God’s own truth" is important for leadership. After all, a trembling in the bones is more convincing testimony than all the dry, documented deductions of the brain.

Descartes had it wrong, It’s not, "I think therefore I am," ... it’s, "I FEEL THEREFORE I AM." The people’s reality are their feelings. And if you want to motivate them to be your cause leaders then you must understand that reality.

What people are feeling at the moment you speak? Of course, those feelings will change as you speak, and you might think of what those changes may be before you speak.

Look for the objective foundation of their feelings. Feelings — except for those linked to phobias and obsessions — almost always have objective foundations. For instance, if your audience is angry, know the two, three or more specific factors causing that anger.

People don't remember the words of leadership speech so much as they remember the feelings they get.

Understand the connection between what they feel and whether the


12/2004© The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. – Celebrating 25 years of helping leaders of top companies worldwide achieve outstanding results every day. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get his FREE report "7 Steps To Leadership Mastery"