Small Business

How Joel Osteen Inspires Millions


Business leaders can learn a lot from the popular evangelist's uplifting style. Accentuating the hopeful empowers people to take action

It's easy to spot Joel Osteen. The pastor of Houston's Lakewood Church has been featured on 60 Minutes, Larry King Live, Good Morning America, and other major network shows in addition to countless magazine and newspaper articles, mostly focusing on his new best seller, Become a Better You. The book was released in October with an initial printing of 3 million copies. Lakewood Church averages 47,000 attendees for Osteen's weekly services. Osteen has influence.

As a communications coach, I make observations on what makes a particular speaker inspiring to his or her listeners. The secret behind Osteen's charisma is this: He speaks the language of hope.

According to Osteen, "As parents, we can profoundly influence the direction of our children's lives by the words we say to them. I believe as husbands and wives we can set the direction for our entire family. As a business owner, you can help set the direction of your employees. With our words, we have the ability to help mold and shape the future of anyone over whom we have influence."

If that's the case, and I believe it is, then dwelling on the negative (for example, focusing on how "bad " things are, how the economy will ruin your business, etc.) will demoralize your listeners. Speaking in positive, optimistic language, however, will leave everyone inspired and energized by your presence.

Searching for Something to Believe In

The people around you want to be inspired. Your customers, employees, and co-workers are searching for someone and something to believe in. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll shows that 72% of Americans are "dissatisfied " with the way things are going in the U.S. You may not be able to change the national mood, but you most certainly have the ability to energize everyone in your sphere of influence.

Inspiring leaders speak the language of optimism. Joel Osteen is no exception. Osteen believes that the first 30 seconds of a conversation will determine the next hour, so he advises speakers to begin conversations with something positive to lower defenses and to create a connection with your listener. In Become a Better You, Osteen writes, "Your words have the power to put a spring in somebody's step, to lift somebody out of defeat and discouragement, and to help propel them to victory."

The other week while I was waiting at the airport, I saw a magazine cover featuring the best places to work in a particular city. The companies that led the competition offered employees perks like free beverages, on-site massage, and fitness rooms. All well and good, but the article was missing the point. Nobody ever jumps out of bed on Monday morning eager to work because they don't have to pay for a cup of coffee. It's nice, but it doesn't satisfy what Emerson described in his writing as "our chief want, someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be."

Fill the Emotional Tanks

Osteen realizes that listeners are hungry for words that reinforce a belief in a brighter future. I interviewed a high school coach who calls it "filling a person's emotional tank." In other words, by reinforcing what people do right and by painting a picture of how successful they could be if they improve in certain areas, you give them fuel that they can convert to energy in the workplace, at school, or wherever they need that extra dose of motivation. According to Osteen, "everywhere we go we should be making deposits—whether at the grocery store, ballpark, school, or office. Develop a habit of sowing good things into people's lives. Make it your business to help somebody else feel better about himself or herself. Encourage him in some way; make him feel important; help him to know that somebody cares."

Osteen also makes the point that you cannot hang out with negative people and expect to live a positive life. That's why we are uninspired by the presence of negative people. You may have a title that suggests "authority " over someone else—chief executive, manager, supervisor, director, teacher. But you will never be recognized as a true leader until you inspire people around you and make them feel confident about the future.

Turning Employees into Heroes

I spent time with Wayne Leonard, the chief executive officer of Entergy, a public utility company serving several southern states including Louisiana and the cities hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina. After the hurricane, more than 1,000 Entergy workers were displaced, many having lost their homes. Those who lost their homes were told to return to work when they could, but no deadline was placed on them. That's how much trust Leonard had in his people. Astonishingly, most everyone returned immediately to help restore power for the residents of New Orleans. They did so because Leonard had always filled their emotional tanks with positive, optimistic energy and language. Here is what Leonard (BusinessWeek.com, 4/20/06) told his employees in the days after Katrina:

"The task before us is awesome, but not insurmountable. We will be challenged at every turn, but this is what has always defined Entergy. We are at our best when the challenge is greatest. Our response to this crisis will make the people we call Entergy remembered and revered for all time. We are bruised but not broken. We are saddened but not despondent. We are at that remarkable place in time where hearts, minds and souls of the good cross with challenge and opportunity to set the course of history. Future generations will stand in awe at what you have endured and accomplished. "

How many managers would communicate in such a way with their teams when faced with a serious challenge? Very few, I'm afraid. They would be too busy protecting their own backs to encourage the people around them. And yet employees desperately want to hear words of encouragement. They don't want to hear that something cannot be done. They want to hear about how the world will be a better place once that something is accomplished.

Your employees, or customers, or colleagues are not much different from Osteen's congregation. Of course you don't have to be a pastor to speak words of encouragement, but as an evangelist for your own brand, lifting people's spirits will gain their respect, admiration, and loyalty.


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