Why Acrostics Matter!

Picture5My name is Bill Richardson and my passion is helping people be the best version of themselves. I am an international trainer and consultant specializing in soft skills development especially in multicultural, cross generational environments. I believe soft skills have a hard impact.

 Ever since I was a boy growing up on farm in Southwestern Ontario Canada, I had this dream of making a difference in people’s lives. Back then I did not have any idea how I could or should do this. During my 35 years working with a Canadian major bank in many varied leadership and management roles, I discovered that the key for individuals to become the best version of themselves always had something to do with personal learning and development. Long story short, it became the driving force for me to take early retirement from a safe, well paid job to pursue facilitating learning and growth on a full time basis which is what I do today.

 I believe the key to learning is not so much about what information you take in, as much as it is about how much of the information is actually retained and applied. A key strategy to independent learning is called the acrostic – a mnemonic device that helps learners effectively learn discreet pieces of information. In an acrostic, the first letter of each word spells out a word or message and provides a powerful framework for both understanding and recall. For example a popular team leadership acrostic spells the word TEAM – Training, Empowerment, Accountability, Motivation.

 Over the past years doing my dream job I have extensively used and evolved this simple device to an art form in my talks and workshops. In addition to being a friend to all teachers and facilitators, the acrostic can be a powerful personal and team development tool that can assist managers and leaders in explaining complex topics in clear and concise ways. In the world of business, ambiguity is the enemy of commitment.

 As I share in this blog my acrostics accumulated from many years experience, I extend an invitation to all of you to send me your favourite acrostics to bill.richardson@perdixgroup.com so I can showcase them as well in this blog.

The PROVE Acrostic

prove itSource: Bill Richardson, International Consultant and Trainer


This acrostic is a powerful reminder to leaders that they actually are buyers of commitment from their followers. With followers, while they typically don’t realize it, they are actually selling this very powerful commodity referred to as commitment. Commitment actually means full engagement with no turning back no matter what. Unfortunately, because a large number of leaders behave in non-supportive or inauthentic ways that creates doubt in their employee’s mind about their real intent, the employee only provides their compliance. While this compliance may appear valuable, it typically lacks full-fledged application of their brain power, perspiration and most importantly what I call their discretionary emotional energy aka passion. This acrostic will help leaders appreciate the value of team commitment to building collaborative capital in the organization and remind them of the importance of their stewardship role in taking proper care of the commitment entrusted to them.



Main Idea: Your brand is your unique promise of value delivery! If you have established a reputation in the organization or community as someone whose intent is worthy of support people will very quickly entrust their discretionary emotional energy aka commitment to you.  If however they do not know about you and the three key elements of your personal brand, i.e.  1) what are you known for, 2) what do you stand for, and 3) what are you capable of becoming, then they will only start off with providing  their compliance. They will be constantly assessing your intent, to ascertain whether you are authentically focused on what is best for the team and the organization. How this process works is contained in the remaining letters of this acrostic – Reach, Objectivity, Validation and Energy. By growing, protecting and promoting their personal brand, leaders can tap into team member commitment much sooner.


Main Idea: Multiply versus diminish! This factor in earning the right to influence revolves around the difference between two mindsets. The first is the leader mindset that “I am the smartest” because they perhaps have degrees and they have the title of leader. These leaders proceed to expect blind obedience and essentially pair of hands kind of support. Their focus in on the deliverable only and what is immediately in front of them. Contrast this with the leader who believes “we are the smartest” and focuses on multiplying what each team member brings to the table. Their reach is significantly wider and higher because they are more focused on outcomes rather than just deliverables and truly forming a trusted partnership with the team. Multipliers are more fun to work with as they are more interested in being a thinking partner than being a thinking replacement as someone who has all the answers.


Main Idea: Responsibly think fast and slow! With our brains hardwired for auto pilot thinking primarily with the purpose of keeping us safe, leaders can easily be seduced into making quick assessments and judgments without any “conscious” thought. By demonstrating to your team that you are aware of how the brain works and that the capability to think fast and slow is a gift of humanity that needs to be managed with care. Team members want to be assured that their leader is putting curiosity before judgement when either thinking fast or slow. Your willingness and ability to remain objective especially under pressure will automatically engender confidence from your team and significantly strengthen your personal brand.


Main Idea: Pay attention to what people value and need! We humans are social animals with five pre-set social needs that significantly influence our behavior. People value and need having acknowledgement for their sense of status, their need for certainty or predictability, their need for some sense of autonomy, their need for being part of a tribe or team that will keep them safe and lastly a need to be treated fairly. These five needs – status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness form the acrostic SCARF which was first coined by David Rock in 2008.  Essentially when any or all of these social needs are threatened people will move away from the direction you want them to go. Conversely, when any or all of this needs are reinforced and increased people will tend to move in the direction you would like them to go. SCARF provides leaders with a language for social interaction they can employ both in their personal and business lives to improve the quality of their social interactions. The key is remember that most of the elements of SCARF are occurring at the subconscious level of the brain. Therefore people may be moving away from an idea or project and they typically will not be able to explain why. By being able to help them put their difficulty into language you automatically strengthen your connection and validity as their leader.



Main Idea: Connect, mobilize, sustain! Just as discretionary emotional energy is at the heart of building collaborative capital, energy around connecting before you communicate is at the heart of demonstrating your worthy intent in regards to commitment. Influencing people is something you do not something you have. Think of influencing as a three bladed propeller that must turn to create movement or progress.  The first blade is about connecting with people to understand what they value and need. Once you have established this context move on to mobilizing their commitment through either tell, sell, enlist or negotiate tactics. The idea is to use the right tactic depending on the context and to have multiple arrows in your influence quiver. The key for the third blade is to sustain that movement by acknowledging what people are contributing, giving feedback and information on progress. People will dedicate their commitment when they know their leader treats influence as a process and not just an event. The secret leadership ingredient is energy.



Final Words: This acrostic is powerful, purposeful and proactive. It is based on the premise that leaders need to continually PROVE their willingness to be a worthy steward of this important ingredient of collaborative capital. It is like swimming upstream. If you stop swimming you will fall back!


From Becoming a Person of Influence by John Maxwell and Jim Dornan


This acrostic sometimes appears as a verb, i.e. INFLUENCE but I prefer the noun version, INFLUENCER. The noun version puts more personalized action into the acrostic and multiplies its impact significantly.   Acrostics can help us direct our attention to critical behaviors we need to script to actually make meaningful personal change that sticks. John Maxwell and Jim Dornan, no strangers to facilitating change that works, have done a wonderful job in focusing in on the 10 core behaviors and attributes of a highly effective influencer also commonly known a leader. In fact, leadership is authentic influence that creates value. The INFLUENCER acrostic provides a powerful framework for embracing influence more as something that you earn rather than something that you are entitled to.



Main Idea: Builds relationships on trust! To have integrity with people, you commit yourself to developing strong character, pay attention to the little things and most importantly, you do what you should do before you do what you want to do. The bottom line is you can bend your actions to conform to your principles, or you can bend your principles to conform to your actions. People trust you when they know you will do the former and resist the latter. Trust is the glue holds people and relationships together. Philip Brooks on integrity –“Character is made in the small moments of our lives.”


Main Idea: Cares about people as individuals! The essence of nurturing is to genuinely be concerned for others and be focused on their growth and independence.  As human relations expert Les Giblin put it, “You can’t make the other person feel important in your presence if you secretly feel that he is a nobody.” We nurture people by focusing on giving rather than getting. Differentiate yourself by consistently giving in the areas of love, respect, sense of security, recognition, and encouragement.


Main Idea: Believes in people! While having faith in people is an essential quality of an influencer, it is a scarce commodity today. In addition to people not having faith in themselves they do not have someone who has faith in them. The essence of this dimension of influencing is not to persuade them to think more highly of you, but rather to persuade them to think more highly of themselves. As German statesman Konrad Adenauer observed: “We all live under the same sky, but we don’t all have the same horizon.”


Main Idea: Values what others have to say! Listening is wanting to hear. When we don’t pay attention to what others have to say, we are sending an often not so subtle message that we don’t value them. As a good listener you are able to connect with others on more levels and develop stronger, deeper relationships because you are meeting a need. Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, advised, “You can make more friends in two weeks by becoming a good listener than you can in two years trying to get other people interested in you.”


Main Idea: Sees from their point of view! The ability to understand people has the potential to impact every aspect of your life, especially your ability to communicate with others. Self-centeredness, often the key stumbling block to understanding others, is simply the tendency of people to put their own interests first. The key antidote for self-centeredness is to strive to see things from other people’s perspective. Art Mortell shared this perspective when addressing a group of sales people, “Whenever I am losing at chess, I consistently get up and stand behind my opponent and see the board from his side. Then I start to discover the stupid moves I have made because I can see it from his perspective. The salesperson’s challenge is to see the world from the prospect’s viewpoint.”


Main Idea: Helps others become bigger! To be an influencer of people you need make a positive impact by coming alongside them and get involved in their lives to raise their level of living, increase their capacity for growth and ultimately their potential for success. If you want to do more for others you have to become more developed yourself. I am reminded about the famous quote, “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance. It is the illusion of knowledge.” Always strive to help others be the best version of themselves.


Main Idea: Assists others through difficulties! The reality is that no matter how much you help people enlarge themselves and develop their potential, they will still face obstacles and problems in their personal and professional lives. As an influencer you help people identify and navigate a course toward their destination. Leroy Eims in his book Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be put it very well, “A leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees farther than other see, and who sees before others do.”


Main Idea: Initiates positive relationships! Connecting is about opening a channel of communication by paying attention to what people value and need. Understanding and more importantly accepting what people value and need is a prerequisite for developing a “make a difference” mindset. Anytime you don’t believe you can make a difference you won’t. Communication skills, a desire to help people change and grow and a sense purpose provide the foundation for initiating and most importantly sustaining positive relationships.


Main Idea: Gives them the power to lead! The ability to empower others is one of the keys to personal and professional success. Empowering is giving your influence to others for the purpose of personal and organizational growth. It’s seeing people’s potential, sharing your resources with them and showing them that you believe in them completely. Business executive J. Paul Getty put it bluntly, “It doesn’t make much difference how much knowledge or experience an executive  possesses; if he/she is unable to achieve results through people, he/she is worthless as an executive.”


Main Idea: Multiplies leadership capabilities in others! Reproducing other influencers is based on the power of multiplication versus maintenance. Leaders in maintenance mode focus on not losing ground rather than making progress. To make a difference you must strive to become multiplier who moves beyond the synergy level to the significance level. At the significance level leaders develop and reproduce leaders who stay with the organization, work to reach their potential and in turn develop leaders.  In an article published in the Harvard Business Review, author Joseph Bailey boldly proclaimed that if you want to raise leaders who reproduce other leaders you need to mentor them.


Final Words: This acrostic is powerful, timeless and thought provoking. I recommend your reading Mr. Maxwell’s book to help you understand that no matter what approach or philosophy in life, you are influencing people either positively or negatively. If you are influencing anyway, why not learn how to have a positive impact and a better chance at a leadership legacy you can be proud of.

The GRABS Acrostic

communicate-icon-pictures-2Source: From Globe and Mail Article – July 27, 2015 by Doug Mollenhauer


This acrostic has a bit of an edge to it which I really like. Its connotation is that when a subject or idea GRABS your attention it has power and impact. Doug Mollenhauer, a communications-training consultant based in Vancouver, developed this acrostic to reinforce five key principles for connecting effectively when communicating. His article can be accessed at http://tinyurl.com/pkmfxwf


Get It:

Main Idea: Help them understand it by stripping complexity and ornamentation from your communication – less is more.

Relate to It:

Main Idea: Help them care and feel something by zeroing in on the emotion that will connect a smaller but potentially more motivated segment of your audience.

Act on it:

Main Idea: Help them want to act on it by articulating an appealing call to action like Nike’s “Just Do It!”

Believe it:

Main Idea: Help them be believers by persuading acceptance through trustworthy authority and personal experience appeals. As Doug puts it, “If the gut says yes, acceptance often follows.”

Surprise and Delight:

Main Idea: Help them notice by injecting humour that both delights and focuses attention by breaking the pattern.

Final Word:

I believe that ordinary things done extraordinarily well, make the difference in leadership. What could be more ordinary than communication? Communicating extraordinarily well is about connecting by paying attention to what people value and need. Embedding GRABS as a habit will help you do this more effectively.

The SPIN Acrostic

51ay1tLmaHL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Source: SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham


This acrostic is an example of a framework that while intended for a sales audience, has application in many complementary disciplines. Neil Rackham and his team, wading through mounds of research information over 20 years ago, discovered that asking the questions in the investigation stage of a sale was a big predictor of success. They found that questions in the successful sales call tend to fall into a sequence they called SPIN. Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need-Payoff.  Studies of negotiations, management interactions, performance interviews and group discussions confirmed their findings – questions persuade more powerfully than other forms of behavior. The SPIN model provides a powerful tool for connecting the what, how and the why of any business situation.

Situation Questions:

Main Idea: Collect helpful data by asking questions about facts and background. Typical Situation Questions could be: “How long has the current organization structure been in place?” or “Could you tell me more about your organizational culture” or “What is your top strategic priority?” While Situation Questions can have any important fact finding role, people typically fall into the trap of asking too many of them before moving on to the natural next step.

Problem Questions:

Main Idea: With the right context in place from the Situation Questions, successful people then transition into exploring problems, difficulties and dissatisfactions especially in the areas where your product or service can be of value. For example they would ask, “Is this process difficult to manage?” or “Are you worried about the quality you get from current system?” or “Is your group meeting their productivity targets?” In contrast to the Situation Questions, people typically do not ask enough Problem Questions. As a result, both parties prematurely begin focusing on solutions before a validated problem statement is agreed upon.

Implication Questions:

Main Idea: Questions focused on the implications or impacts of the problem help successful people explore its effects or consequences. In the sales world, these type of questions help the customer understand the problem seriousness and urgency. This same principle holds true when leaders need to sell concepts and ideas to their team who may not understand the “burning platform” nature of the situation. Examples of implication questions could be “What effect does this reject rate have on customer satisfaction?” or “How will this problem affect your future profitability?” Just like in the sales context, even experienced leaders and managers seldom ask them well.  

 Need Payoff Questions:

Main Idea: Questions focused on flushing out the benefits for solving the problem help your client or stakeholder both understand the context and take ownership for taking action. Successful people are as adept at facilitating the right answer as they are providing the right answer. Key facilitating questions in this step could be “Would it be useful to speed up this operation by 10%?” or “If we could improve the quality of this operation, how would it help you?” In the sales world Neil Rackham and his team observed that top sales performers particularly in large sales, asked more than 10 times as many Need-Payoff questions as average performers.

Final Words: While the SPIN model implies a logical question sequence, its real power is in its flexibility of application. Think of it as a proven framework, not a methodology, for helping your client articulate explicit needs. Successful people in any field pay attention to what their stakeholders’ value and need.

The THINK Acrostic


Source: unknown


This acrostic is one of the most impactful frameworks for helping people change the way they interact with other people both one on one and in teams. Because we are hard wired as humans to be self centered especially when under stress, our communications often lack empathy and clarity. This acrostic serves as a behavioral script to help people press the “pause button” before speaking especially in high stakes situations. Once embedded as a habit its application can have a dramatic effect on both personal and business relationships.


Main Idea: Test the veracity of what you are about to communicate by factoring in your current emotional state and the quality/quantity of information at hand. If you are in a highly emotional state there is very good chance your objectivity has been reduced and or distorted. Remember that truth can be a matter of perspective and highly influenced by culture and protocol.


Main Idea: As in the truth, our perception of what is helpful is also a matter of perspective. Generally, when under pressure our ability or willingness to put curiosity in front of judgement is compromised. We are hard wired to judge the threat or reward nature of everything we perceive minute by minute. In these moments we need to exercise a certain level of discipline in order to accurately determine whether what we are about to say will be helpful for the relationship versus what will be helpful for us.


Main Idea: I am reminded about an anonymous quote, “long after people forget your words they will remember how you made them feel.” Basically it means when you communicate or mobilize people to action, how you communicate your message will either inspire them to be committed and engaged, or discourage them to the level of compliance and helplessness. Before you speak, again hit the pause button to determine which you want, inspiration or discouragement. The bad news is that despite your best efforts to the contrary, your body language, tone and volume likely make the difference. The good news is all three of these elements can be easily changed.

Necessary: Quite often in intense but friendly debates with my wife, especially about politics, I have caught myself going farther and deeper on particular point than is really needed or required. You might have witnessed this same phenomenon in the work setting where people will be more concerned about being right than actually learning either new information or better information about the other person’s perspective. Testing for “is it necessary” is perhaps one of the best strategies for communicating effectively especially in executive presentations. This is particularly true when the audience believes your intent is to show off versus be clear. In my coaching practice I promote the B.L.U.F approach – bottom line up front.

Kind: For me, this is the most important element in this wonderful acrostic. Testing for kindness is very seldom done in either the personal or business realm. In fact in my experience, kindness is sometimes considered a sign of weakness. The challenge for this one is that we deceive ourselves into believing that kindness takes time, a lot of energy and because we are busy and overwhelmed ourselves, we have an implicit licence to simply express ourselves. This is especially true when we are in a state of overwhelm because our company has launched more airplanes (aka projects and initiatives) than it can safely land. The fact is that we are social animals and how we connect with others makes the difference in how well we are able to cope with the pressures of  today’s fast paced, multicultural business environment. Kindness matters as does this whole THINK acrostic.

What do you THINK?