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The Hierarchy of Action

By Steve Kane Updated on April 22nd, 2022

Ryan McCall is a continuous improvement engineer at FECON. He and I have been collaborating on continuous improvement and leadership over the past couple of years. We’ve explored the works of Mike Rother, Simon Sinek, Jocko Willink, and many others during that time. He was a guest on the Gemba Academy Podcast in 2019 and will be featured in a second episode that is due to be released in the coming weeks. Ryan is a true life-long learner and an inspirational leader.  This article is his work and I’m happy to share it here.

Influential Leadership skills are a requirement for anyone who needs to work with other people to get things done. At some point in your life, whether you’re leading a team, acquiring more customers, or convincing a nation to go to the moon; you’re going to need to influence others to take action to reach your goals.  

The clearest, most direct, and most accurate definition of influential leadership I’ve found is from Dwight D. Eisenhower. “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want to be done because he wants to do it.”

 So how do you get others to take action towards your goals because they want to? It’s all about how you communicate as a leader. More specifically it’s the order in which ideas are communicated that makes the difference. Testing several techniques and researching the communication of other successful leaders I noticed a trend. The most successful leaders all communicate using a specific framework that follows the natural way human beings think. 

 The Hierarchy of Action

 The Hierarchy of Action is a series of communication steps to inspire others to take action and lead them to results. Similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the Hierarchy of Action builds upon itself like a pyramid. Each stage must be clearly communicated before moving up the hierarchy to the next stage. Also, like any good mental model, it’s simple, easy to remember, and effective!

When first presenting your big idea, project, or anything you’re going to need others to take action on, communicate it in this order. Start with why, then what, then how. Why, is your purpose. Purpose is the foundation of human action. People have to know why! What, is all about vision, the expected outcome of taking action. How, is the action steps. The specific actions that will lead to the vision and fulfill the purpose.  

 Why start with Why?

 What is the instinctual response when anyone asks you to do something? ”Why!?” Human beings need to have a why for everything! They don’t have to agree with it, or even like it, but they must have a reason to act. The human need for why is so strong that if a reason is not given, people will make one up! To gain clarity, buy-in and avoid the inevitable “Why?” start your communication with a strong and clear purpose. 

 Paint the Picture

 Once a clear why has been established, the What is all about the vision. People love imagery. A compelling vision of the future is irresistible! Especially when tied to a purpose that they are already excited about. When presenting your vision, tap into the senses. Make it really come alive in their mind. What is the outcome going to look, feel, and sound like? What will be happening? This is where you hook them! 

 The final stage is how you plan to reach your vision and fulfill your purpose. This is when you bring in the action steps. This is also the stage with the most back and forth communication and when feedback from others is necessary. All the actions required won’t usually be determined or known at the outset. This is why your purpose and vision are crucial first steps in communication. Your purpose and vision will give direction, alignment, and focus to the discussion and determination of the actions. Work with your team to get a list of action items and get busy!

 The Hierarchy of Action is effective one-on-one, in small teams, or in large audiences. It works in presentations, meetings, and emails. Most importantly it lets you lead through influence instead of authority by inspiring others to act because they want to.

 Keep the Hierarchy of Action in mind the next time you’re leading others to take action. Give it a try and see if it improves your ability to lead through influence. Most importantly, have fun!

  1. Ryan McCall

    April 22, 2022 - 12:16 pm

    Thank you for the kind words Steve!


    April 22, 2022 - 1:17 pm

    Thank you for The Hierarchy of Action. I working on a presentation for war veterans and this comes in just at the right time.

  3. Steve Kane

    April 22, 2022 - 2:05 pm

    My pleasure, Ryan!

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