Are Your Audio Visuals Blunting Your Leadership Impact?

The one mistake to avoid when trying to motivate employees.

By Brent Filson - 01/2008

I got my first lesson in what a leadership presence truly means when gunnery sergeant Connors appeared on the flight deck.

Back in my Marine infantry days, I was called onto the flight deck of a helicopter landing ship off the coast of Vietnam carrying our reinforced company toward some assault point. There, a large number of sailors and Marines were standing in roughly two opposing lines, engaged in a quarrel verging on a riot.

I didn’t know what the quarrel was about, only that it probably had something to do with the traditional, blow-torch-and-gun powder relationship between sailors and Marines. I also knew that if I as Marine officer of the day didn’t break it up, I would shortly be living the Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times."

I stepped between the lines and said a few things in what I hoped was a loud voice. Everyone stopped and looked at me – but only momentarily. Again, they started advancing toward one another.

Then Connors appeared. He had come up the ladder behind me and was out on the flight deck walking amongst the Marines and sailors. He was a tough, beloved leader, who would later be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for falling on a grenade to save his fellow Marines. He told me many times, "Lieutenant, this is the Golden Rule of leadership: first accomplish the mission, but then take care of the troops."

Ever since I had come to know him, he had a knack of bolstering the confidence of Marines even in the worst possible situations. So, as soon as he appeared on the flight deck, the wrangling stopped. The antagonists separated, and without his even saying a word, they cleared off the flight deck.

That was a leadership lesson I’ve never forgotten. It was his presence, his very presence alone that stopped angry words from becoming angry deeds. And all he did was simply walk among the sailors and Marines, looking each person in the eye.

I’m reminded of that moment and its lesson when I see leaders relying on audio/visual aids. When they switch on their projectors or their PowerPoints and draw the audience’s attention to a large screen, I wish they had encountered gunnery sergeant Connors.

Presence is one of the most potent aspects of leadership. Yet many leaders diminish the potential power with audio/visual aids.

For instance, PowerPoint, widely used by business people, educators, students and trainers, employs computer operating systems to take slide projector technologies to new dimensions of sophistication and effectiveness.

As a tool to communicate information, PowerPoint is potent; however, as a tool of leadership, it can be an impediment.

That’s because the communication of information and manifestation of leadership are two separate activities, one fundamentally rational, the other essentially emotional. When you confuse one with the other, you diminish the effectiveness of both.

Of course, as a leader, you will always be communicating information. But the communication of information is the means to the end of leadership. That end involves getting great results. It involves motivating people to take action that gets great results. And when you talk about motivating people, you have to talk about emotion.

"Emotion" and "motivation" come from the same Latin root, "to move." When you want to move people to take action, you must engage their emotions.

The communication of information is easy to understand, if not to accomplish. It is simply imparting data from one person to another. That’s done by the writing and speaking. Projecting visuals, such as PowerPoint does, can bring a high degree of effectiveness to communicating information.

However, the manifestation of leadership is not so easy to understand and for some leaders practically impossible to accomplish. And it is the emotional dimension of leadership that trips them up.

Many leaders don’t know what true leadership is. They go through their careers victimized by that ignorance.

The right leadership has a few simple principles. Leadership is simply about getting results, whatever forms or qualities those results take. Leaders can’t get results by themselves. They need others. The best way to have others get results is not to order them but to have them become motivated to ardently achieve the results.

If you don’t subscribe to those principles, you might as keep using presentations and audio/visuals.

Since people won’t be committed to take action for results unless they’re emotions are engaged, they won’t be emotionally engaged in a positive way unless they feel their actions are meaningful to them.

PowerPoint projection and other kinds of audio/visuals becomes the focal point, not you. If leadership is about establishing deep, human, emotional connections in order to have people make the choice to be motivated to take ardent action for results, then the best visuals should be YOU.

After all, the message is not just the message, it’s also the MESSENGER. People are not motivated so much by facts as they are by other people.

Throughout history, whenever peoples in practically all nations and cultures needed to take motivated action, one thing had to take place: a leader had to gather them together and speak from the heart. No audio/visuals were involved.

(For instance, just Connors’s presence on the flight deck was powerful, heartfelt speech, even though he did not say a word.)

People don’t remember the words of what leaders say as much as they remember the feelings they get from the words or from the very presence of that leader. And those feelings are formed in the crucible of relationships, relationships driven in part by the very impact a leader’s presence has on the people.

Gunnery Sergeant Connors defused a potentially bad situation simply by showing up. Clearly, he didn’t use nor need audio/visuals.

Don’t let audio/visual technologies get between your audience and your best motivational tool – that very person reading this article!


01/2008© 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"