When I was in college, my advertising courses touted the importance of “selling the sizzle, not the steak.” More recently, Simon Sinek became famous for challenging us all to find our “why”. And in the midst of what is being dubbed “the great resignation,” the message we’re hearing is that people are looking for more meaning in their work and lives. Beyond the pithy descriptors, what does all of this really mean for you as a leader? Lots, actually.
Leadership is about influence. And influence is about having an effect . . . on thinking, on behavior, on effort, on aspirations. In spite of what command and control types in positions of leadership might think, you can’t “make” someone do something. People always have a choice. Your job as a leader is to influence individuals to choose the path you are proposing. After all, leaders without followers are simply lone nuts. This is easy to agree with in principle, but much harder to actually put into practice.
When leaders get to the point of trying to influence behavior among their people, they are usually well down the road in their thinking. While “the sizzle” may have prompted the idea in the first place, you have likely wrestled with various options, considered a range of scenarios, and charted out what you believe to be the best course of action. At this point, the sizzle seems self-evident to you. Your focus is on the steak. You have moved from aspirations to tactics. And there is a strong tendency to assume your people are where you are. They’re not.
You have to start with, and continually return to, the sizzle if you want to move people to action. Give them a reason to care. Why should they struggle through the ups and downs your well-laid plan will certainly bring? Why should they change their behavior — which they may see as successful/effective/reward-producing? Just because you said so? How’s that working for you?
Focusing on the sizzle isn’t just important for your people. It is energizing for you as well. When you are in the throes of the tedious parts of the job that just seem to slog on, focusing on why you are subjecting yourself to these challenges can be the one thing that sustains you. And yet too often, we get so focused on putting one foot in front of the other that we lose sight of why we raised our hand for this opportunity in the first place.
It’s a new year. A chance to refocus. Maybe the best place to start is to rediscover your sizzle.