Creating inspiration, part 7: Define the needed steps

Dr. Wernher von Braun explains the Saturn Launch System to President John F. Kennedy. NASA Deputy Administrator Robert Seamans is to the left of von Braun

This post describes the last of the seven building blocks that you can use to inspire yourself and other people during times of change.

This building block is about defining the initial actions that are needed and showing they are achievable.

That might sound straightforward but as three examples will show, this can vary enormously.

The first example comes from General George Patton. In 1944, the outcome of World War II depended on Patton’s ability to motivate the Third Army to follow up on the largest seaborne invasion in history.

Patton inspired an entire army to do something huge and terrifying they had never done before. And he achieved it almost entirely with this building block.

He did so on three levels:

  • First, he reminded his team of the general behaviours he expected from them, such as “constant alertness” and “instant obedience.”
  • Second, he described specific examples of the kinds of actions they would be called upon to perform and he reminded them that other people before them had already done these things:
    “You should have seen the trucks on the road to Gabès. Those drivers were magnificent. All day and all night they crawled along those son-of-a-bitch roads, never stopping, never deviating from their course with shells bursting all around them.”
  • And third, he told his people how he wanted them to behave emotionally“An army is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, and fights as a team. This individual hero stuff is bullshit.”

The language Patton used might not be appropriate for your audience but it was entirely appropriate for his. Historians have called this one of the greatest motivational speeches of all time.

In 1962, President John F Kennedy delivered this same building block in a very different way. Announcing his plan to put an astronaut on the moon, he defined only the high-level resources that would be assigned:

“During the next five years the National Aeronautics and Space Administration expects to double the number of scientists and engineers in this area; to increase its outlays for salaries and expenses to $60 million a year; to invest some $200 million in plant and laboratory facilities; and to direct or contract for new space efforts over $1 billion from this Center in this City.”

This approach was different but entirely appropriate for him — at this stage it was the most that anybody could know.

This seventh building block of inspiration is about describing the next steps you want to take (not the whole journey) and showing they are achievable. Defining these well gives people confidence to take the first step. And in a time of change, building that confidence is more important than ever.

Are you trying to shift someone to take action? Would defining the next steps and showing they are achievable be a useful way to inspire them to support you?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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Photo By NASA on The Commons via

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