One of the most dramatic and important moments in American history was marked by what did not happen rather than by what did happen, and it’s all because of the masterful persuasive power of George Washington.
On March 15, 1783, General Washington attended a meeting of mutinous officers who were angry about not being paid by the Continental Congress and who were agitating for a march on Philadelphia to take over the government. If this happened, the ideals for which they had fought in order to earn their independence from Great Britain would probably have died. The revolution would have thrown away its high-minded legitimacy and the United States as we know it would probably never have come into existence.
A thirty-year era of repression, “stability” and fear ended last week after eighteen days of protests by ordinary Egyptians. Millions took to the streets in what has been called a leaderless rebellion. One of the most thrilling aspects of the revolution is that it was carried out by millions of ordinary people; as one person called them: “heroes with no names.” There was no strongman who organized a putsch and seized power.
Yet even a mass movement inevitably requires a voice, and one of the most eloquent voices is Wael Ghonim, whose interview on Dream TV helped to reenergize the protests when the regime was hoping that they would run out of steam. That riveting interview was Ghonim’s leadership moment, when his eloquence, deep conviction and courage came together to make a real difference.
If you can take the time, do yourself a favor and watch the entire interview.
You’ve heard the trite old saying: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for life.” It applies to persuasion as well as teaching. When you provide external incentives to get someone to change their behavior, it’s like giving them a fish. It’s easy to get people to do things to gain rewards or avoid punishments, but the desired behavior only lasts as long as you have the ability to a) monitor the behavior and b) furnish the necessary reward or punishment. If you want to drive lasting behavior change, you’ve got to find ways to get people to do things for their own reasons, and the best way to do this is to use their sense of who they are to provide internal, long-lasting motivation.
I actually first learned this when I was 15, though I didn’t know it at the time. I was a member of the Jack Nelson Swim Club. Nelson had been an Olympic swimmer and Olympic coach, and was a legend in swimming circles. I wasn’t good enough to be coached directly by him, so when I was summoned to his office, I was terrified. I had been a smart-aleck and all-around pain in the rear to my coach and pretty much ignored his yelling and threats, but now I knew that I was in for it. I was already figuring out how I was going to tell my parents I had been thrown off the team.
Sometimes a lifetime of achievement can be decisively affected by your performance during several crucial minutes.
Twenty-one people spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Boston on July 27, 2004, including such well-known names as Edward Kennedy and Jesse Jackson. One speaker was a virtually unknown candidate for the Senate in Illinois, and his performance that night radically changed the trajectory of his career. Barack Obama seized his moment to stand out above the crowd and used it as a springboard to the most powerful job in the world.