Successful leaders are influential. That means they are able to create energy in the school community around a common set of beliefs, ideas, and practices without directing, threatening, or manipulating others.
A primary quality of those leaders is their intellectual clarity and their ability to communicate that clarity concisely and precisely.
An effective leadership tool for creating and communicating that clarity are the “six principles of sticky ideas” described by Chip Heath and Dan Heath in their book, Made to Stick.
The Heaths use the acronym SUCCESS to capture the six principles:
Simplicty: To find the core of an idea, we must be masters of exclusion, the Heaths say. “Saying something short is not the mission—sound bites are not the idea,” they write. “Proverbs are ideal. We must create ideas that are both simple and profound… a one-sentence statement so profound that an individual could spend a lifetime learning to follow it.”
Unexpectedness: Getting people to pay attention sometimes requires the element of surprise. To that end, “We need to violate people’s expectations. We need to be counterintuitive,” they write. In addition, they point out that it’s important to generate interest and curiosity by “…systematically ‘opening gaps’ in their knowledge—and then filling those gaps.”
Concreteness: To make ideas clear, the Heaths say, “We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information… Naturally sticky ideas are full of concrete images… Speaking concretely is the only way to ensure that our idea will mean the same thing to everyone in our audience.”
Credibility: Credibility is established, the Heaths say, when people can test out the ideas based on their own experiences. “We need ways to help people test our ideas for themselves—a ‘try before you buy’ philosophy for the world of ideas.”
Emotions: “How do we get people to care about our ideas?,” the Heaths ask. “We make them feel something.”
Stories: Stories are the means by which all of the other elements are tied together in a coherent whole. A story, the Heaths say, “… provides simulation (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act).”
These six elements are not a formula, but rather factors to consider when seeking to influence.
They remind us that we are most influential when we speak and write with proverb-like clarity; tell stories that illustrate our ideas, elicit emotion, and include the element of surprise; and provide concrete details that describe and pique curiosity.
Leaders may benefit from developing a checklist based on these six principles to help them prepare for important meetings and conversations. I’ll have more to say tomorrow about the value, power, and use of checklists.