Re-contextualize to Motivate and Lead

DustyLeadership, Personal MasteryLeave a Comment

According to Leadership Guru John Kotter, there are four things leaders have to provide:

  • Establishing direction
  • Aligning people
  • Motivating and inspiring
  • Producing change through the utilization of the first three

The ability to shift or create context and to re-contextualize (drawing the larger circle) is a potent enabler of establishing direction, aligning people, motivating and inspiring in order to produce meaningful change.

Below are some examples from great leaders who were great at re-contextualizing:

Steve Jobs:

When Steve Jobs re-assumed control of Apple Computer he re-focused Apple on more cutting edge work — leading to a powerful new operating system, beautiful and highly functional notebook computers, the iPod and ultimately iTunes store system.

He accomplished this largely by re- emphasizing the context of “leading through outrageously beautiful and functional design.” The container he created for the engineers, designers and marketing teams was the elegance of design.

This provided a context that informed and guided all work, decisions, investment efforts and team interactions.

President Kennedy:
President Kennedy created a compelling alignment of the nation’s youth and productive energies when he re-contextualized our view of government with, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”George Bernard Shaw 

George Bernard Shaw re-contextualized by taking a common statement and inverting it, and turning it on its

head when he said, “Many people see things as they are and ask why. I see things as they might be and ask why not.”



By using the power of language, Gandhi was able to reframe a situation by asking a powerful and compelling question as a response. When challenged by some of the leaders of the freedom movement in South Africa

that the government would only respond to violence, he re-framed it as: “And if we resort to violence how will the British react? Will the world see us as just and different if we act the same as them?”


Take a step back and think about the ways you can consciously use language to pose questions and help create more compelling contexts for motivating, focusing, aligning and helping drive effective change.

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