Leadership Building Skills for Business Owners and Executives: Skill Three

Skill number three. Learn to tell your story so that others are inspired to get involved.


Many of us can recognize the passion and hope of the powerful “I have a dream” speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave in 1963.   It is ranked the top American speech of the 20th century in a 1999 poll of scholars of public address.  

And yet even though the speech was focused on African Americans, 60,000 White Americans where in the audience to listen to these great words.  Why?   Because the principles they continually heard from Dr. King inspired them.  They knew that he was going to deliver a message that reinforced principles they already believed in, principles that reflected their own feelings of value.  To hear of the courage, the honesty and decency being called for also inspired these White Americans to continue to  live by the principles they held near and dear to their heart.  These principles where expressed in such away as to open up not Dr. Kings reputation as an influence not just African American’s but people such as themselves as well as the people that still harbored racist views.   A true transformation of character for everyone involved.

Dr. King was a great and exceptional man.  Beyond his tremendous commitment and talent he also had developed techniques to inspire others.  His mastery of these techniques was instrumental in the civil rights movement.  We will focus on three of these powerful techniques in this segment.


  1. A background of relatedness

In Dr. King’s speech “I Have a Dream” he says: “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.”

How many people can identify with having their children or other people’s children have a better future? As you may guess this is pretty much everyone.   He touched an emotional content that everyone can relate to. This is relating to others at its best and is fundamental when inspiring others.

 The key is to start with this relatedness.  What do you have in common in your humanity with your audience?  In other words are they as passionate about what you are concerned with as you are?  Depending on what you are focused on this may be a simple or more challenging approach.  Either way it is imperative to have a sense of what people can agree on. 

This is the biggest question that when committing our time or money. “Why would I want to do that?” “What is in it for me?”   Some people feel there must be a financial benefit. Others want more comfort or entertainment. Still others want to look good. But mostly people are interested in what validates their life experience, what makes them stronger in their character.

Dr. King appealed to people’s sense of parental love when he spoke of his four little children.  What is the common relatedness in your goal that you can open a person or group up so they know you have genuine intention? What is it that makes people warm up to a common understanding that you share with them?   Find that life experience of your audience and speak that language as you develop this background of relatedness. Once you have established that you are in the same page as your audience they will be more inclined to listen.

  1. Speak of the lack of integrity in the past.

Now that we have their attention, we next we will qualify our goal or dream through how things will be better.  We speak of a past that has not been done well or as well as we can now do it, which then leads to a call to action for a better future.

Dr. King uses the term “injustice” throughout the speech.  He describes many examples of the injustices that had happened to people of color. The people that felt injustice at the time suffered tremendously. Some lost their lives.  Hearing about this, for almost anyone, is cause to become emotionally charged to take action.    

And so it is a key element, when speaking to others about our goals, to speak in such a way that they can develop empathy for us or our cause. 

For our uses we will parallel this with the term “a lack of integrity”.  We use this term as a general application to many situations.  A person may tell a story about some mistake they made in their attempt to accomplish their goals that resulted in embarrassment.  This can be very funny.  We can all laugh at the humor of their embarrassment as we can see ourselves in their place. We will also feel akin to them and are more interested in contributing to them as they have just related to us on a very human level. 

This can be done many ways.  e.g. A corporation reports that it has been grossly inefficient and the resultant effect on others; A team reports that they have had some difficulty in communicating and have not produced the results they wanted causing distress and frustration.  A woman looking for a husband goes out with a man despite the warning in her head. Then, sure enough, he skips out on her leaving her with a very expensive dinner bill. 

The point being: people can relate to where integrity has been out and the consequential suffering. They also admire the courage to be honest. Whomever is delivering this information has become trustworthy, the honesty to tell on oneself is noble and people are willing to contribute to this persons cause to improve the situation especially if they have can relate to their interest.

With a related background and honesty about the past you know have your audience full attention about what is to be done in the future. 


  1. The goal/the integrity. (The win over the past.)


Now a win over the past with a solution that will bring integrity and a better life to everyone involved.

As Dr. King ends his speech, he uses metaphors and emotion to bring the message of his goal of equal civil rights. He enrolls his audience with imagination and language that creates ideas of a future where positive sought after experiences will happen when integrity is established through the accomplishment of his goal. It is not out there. It is not some arbitrary person. It is everyone that came to the speech.   He is passionate and resolute. “Free at last. Free at last. Great God almighty we are free at last.”    The relatedness and emotion motivate folks and change many people’s lives forever.

We can on our level of goal, establish the same thing.  Crafting our message in the context of our audience we do the same for the people we intend on influencing.   Dr. King was a leader of a church and had a context of speaking.   A manager of engineering department will have a context he or she speaks to.  A woman addressing a neighborhood in Florida will have a context she speaks to her neighbors.  These are different context but all situations will have a future that speaks of better integrity than the past that results in favorable outcomes.  The audience will be able to buy into these results depending on how well they are enrolled.  The better this is done the more people that will agree, which brings me to fourth skill

I began coaching people in 1996 for an international non-profit organization. Previously, I worked as a mechanical engineer and physics teacher but found through my work in the non-profit, I was much more passionate about empowering people. So I decided to make coaching my occupation. My education includes: a bachelors of science in mechanical engineering from Oregon Institute of Technology, A master in education from Portland State University, counselor training through GSM International, three years of living curriculum and coach training through Landmark Education, and coach training through The Tony Robbins Institute.