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How great leaders inspire action through meaning

How great leaders inspire action.

Leadership in the 21st century presupposes incredibly challenging demands. These demands are ever-changing, complex, and unpredictable. This article looks at how great leaders inspire action that cuts through these challenges effortlessly.

In his groundbreaking book Flow, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi reveals that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow. In this state of flow, people typically experience deep joy, creativity and a total involvement with life and the present moment.

One of the central models we use in Neuro-Semantics, which goes beyond the work of Csikszentmihalyi is the meaning/performance quadrants.


The Meaning Axis

You and I (we, all human beings) are meaning-makers. We create, construct, and invent meaning. This lies at the heart of our essential nature.

Without the formal instincts animals have, we create our instinct-like responses by the meanings we construct. For anything to have “meaning” you have to attribute meaning to it. And when you think, when you feel, when you respond – that’s what is happening: you are attributing, appraising and constructing meaning. The only question is what kind of meaning you create – the quality of the meaning you’re inventing. That’s because the quality of your life is the quality of your meanings.

This is the inner dimension – the dimension that you can’t see, hear, smell or taste. It’s your inner game. And all of the truly meaningful and significant facets of your life come from this dimension. That’s why it is inside-out.

The Performance Axis

You and I are also responders. We act. We speak, emote, behave, react, respond and do things. And the key to our actions, the quality of our behaviours, lies in our meanings. That’s because behind or within every response is a meaning and the response is the acting-out of meaning. That’s also what every emotion is—the feel of meaning.

Regarding this outer dimension, this is the outer game and is what you can see, hear, smell, and taste. It is empirical and sensory-based. And the quality of your actions or performances depends on the quality of your meanings.

The synthesis of meaning and performance enables a leader and their followers to create “flow” through engagement – so that everyone involved finds their work significant, highly meaningful, challenging and yet effortless.

To simplify this, we designed what we call the Delilah Model.

Why, Why, Why Delilah?

The Delilah Model begins with: what we are doing (Intention, Strategy, Actions). We then ask “Why is that important?” Then we take the question a step further, and ask, “Why is that why important?”

“What, why, why Delilah?”

Create a triangle:
(Triangle) Top – Why the Why?
(Triangle) Bottom Left – What?
(Triangle) Bottom Right – Why?

The why the why unlocks the highest intention (higher level meaning).

This is the meaning that needs to be shared for the what to make sense.

Developmental Action Inquiry (DAI)

This whole process can then be brought together using Bill Tolbert’s Developmental Action Inquiry (DAI). DAI provides us with a means of personal, interpersonal and organisational development that integrates inquiry and action.

More specifically, the DAI identifies gaps that exist between individual, team, and organisational intentions, strategies, actions and outcomes using feedback loops of learning and adaptation.


The DAI model begins with an inquiry into Intention. What do we intend to have happened? Why is this important and why is that why important?

DAI then inquires into the Strategy. This is the What. What is our plan, our strategy for actualising this intention?

DAI then inquires into the actions. This is the How. How will we actualise this strategy? What will we do, and by when?

The final step in the DAI is the alignment step. The step of evaluation. How will we evaluate that my/our actions are aligned with the strategy and that the strategy is aligned with our intent?

Conclusion – sharing quality meanings is the key to effective leadership

Great leaders inspire engagement by clearly communicating their intention, including why that is ultimately important and meaningful to all concerned. Great leaders can influence higher levels of performance through the sharing of quality meanings.

They then provide a means (strategy, plan) and identify the actions (who will do what, when), so that their followers can effortless actualise themselves and their potential toward making the intention a reality.


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