Modeling Success: Three Ways to Communicate Effectively Without Words

Success doesn’t come easy, and the more complex the challenge, the harder it can be to communicate effectively with your team.  Sometimes, the more you talk, the more words can get in the way.  One way to cut through the noise is modeling success.

If you can show them what success looks like, it can help them visualize what they need to do, improve teamwork, and get you a positive result a lot faster.  Today we’ll talk about what modeling success looks like, and three ways you can put this modeling idea to good use.


Modeling Success - Effective Communication without Words

Training Leaders

Last weekend we held our annual leadership training event for the Scout troop.   We reserve these events for the more experienced Scouts to help them refine their leadership techniques and improve problem-solving skills.

We start with a few hours reviewing a select set of basic skills, and use the EDGE method to make sure everyone has a firm grasp of the fundamentals.  This weekend the focus was on knots and rope lashings.

Then we set off into the woods with our day packs.  Every half mile or so, we’ll stop, pull aside a new leader, and read him a challenge that he has to solve with the help of his team.  He has ten minutes to come up with a plan, and twenty to put it into place.

This weekend they had to design and make a crane to pour water on something 15 feet away, erect the tallest flag pole they could to signal an airplane, improvise an overnight shelter, and fashion a bridge to cross a creek.

Each challenge gave them opportunities to apply their new skills to increasingly complex projects.

Is Anyone Hungry?

The biggest challenge came at the end.  Walking through the woods, they came across a rope tied between two trees, 15 feet above the ground.  From the rope hung a bright orange cooler, and in the cooler was “dinner.”

Challenge:  Build a tower that you can climb to cut down the cooler (simply climbing the tree or cutting the rope with a knife on a stick would be too easy – we wanted them to really earn this meal!).

Thing is, most of these Scouts had never built anything close to the kind of tower I had in mind, and we were only giving them one hour to get it done.

How to get them there?  Show them a model.

After telling them the challenge, I pulled a miniature model of the tower out of a bag.  I had made it out of dowel rods and lengths of twine.

In making this model, I learned how many lashings to tie, the best configuration for the leg support, a simple knot to use for making the rope ladder, and even a few not-so-great construction techniques that were best avoided.

Tower Model - Modeling SuccessThe model helped me give enough guidance to the Scouts that we could be pretty sure of their eventual success.

The leader took the model to his “Cutting Team” so they knew how many pieces of wood to produce and what their relative lengths should be.

He showed it to his “Platform Team” so they knew the size and length of wood to scavenge for the top floor.

He showed it to the “Rope Ladder Team” so they could see how the ladder would attach to the structure.

Every so often, as they discussed the project, there would be some confusion about what piece of wood or lashing they were talking about.  A quick reference to the model helped clarify and keep everyone on track.

When the tower was finally done, the teams voted to give their leader the honor of first to climb it and retrieve the orange cooler.

As soon as they did, our adult chefs rang the dinner bell and minutes later they were enjoying hot beef brisket, potatoes and green beans by the fire, with banana cream pie for dessert.  It was a delicious reward for a well-earned success.

3 Ways to Model

The more complex something is, the more helpful it can be to have a model to work from.  Here are three variations on the modeling idea that you can start using today to help improve communication on your team and make you all more productive.

Make a model.  A physical model allows you to experiment and learn on a much smaller scale so that when you are going for record, you have already solved the biggest problems.  It’s a lot like a rehearsal.

Do it to scale, get your team leaders and key players involved for their input, and put something together – you will learn a lot in the process that can save a bunch of time and frustration later on.

Be a model.  Just as people can respond to a physical model to guide them in constructing something, you can serve as a model yourself for the kind of culture you want to build on your team.  As they see how you respond to bad news, ethical dilemmas, or criticism, they will begin to adopt your ways.

If you are the leader, like it or not, you are the model, and the most important thing you can do is be aware of the example you are setting for the others.  Act the way you want them to act, and over time you’ll see progress.

As the leader, you are the model; act as you want your team to act. Click To Tweet

Model the decision.  When weighing a tough decision, sometimes it helps to model the outcome.  Act as though you have already chosen Option A in your mind, then think through what is likely to happen next.

Are people being positively affected?  Does it make the team more capable?  Does the choice strengthen relationships with others?  Does it get the job done?

Then back up and think through Option B in the same way.  Sometimes the answer becomes clear.  You can also try this approach with your other leaders and key players – role-play the likely outcomes.

Modeling Success – The Takeaway

The more complex the challenge, the more helpful you will find modeling success to be.

When your teammates can see, touch, and feel what it is that they are striving for, it helps clarify communication, improve teamwork, and keep everyone focused on making the dream a reality.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much more valuable can a model be as an effective communication tool for you?

Question:  How else have you seen models used as effective leadership tools?

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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