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NLP Edge to Leadership: is there such a thing and does it really work?

NLP is one of the most popular techniques in applied psychology available today and many practitioners swear by its efficacy in leading people to success in any sphere of life they choose to apply it in. So just what is NLP and how can it help leaders shape the future of their organizations?

NLP cannot be defined merely as a form of applied psychology however, for this would not do it complete justice. There are as many definitions of NLP as there are people. To quote Amanda Vicker, co-author of Teach Yourself NLP,  “Some say it is a user manual  for the brain, others say it’s an attitude and a methodology that leaves behind a trail of techniques or even that it’s a way of modeling excellence in human behavior.

NLP is all of these things and more but what really counts is how people use it to achieve more and feel fulfilled in their personal and professional lives. When you link all the words up, you have Neuro-Linguistic Programming which is essentially concerned with the processes by which we create an internal representation of the external ‘reality’ through the language of our neurology.”

NLP and Leadership

One of the specialties of NLP is its potential to transform the way leaders operate by offering absolute clarity over what  one wants.  The more clarity one achieves over what one wants, the more likely they are to achieve it. NLP differs from most run of the mill goal setting techniques in that it uses something called a well-formed outcome. It emphasizes the difference between a goal and an outcome in a subtle, yet critical way. A goal is a desire for something in particular, whereas an outcome is what  comes to us as a result of our actions. One of the key reasons why goals don’t eventuate or fructify is because they were ill-formed to begin with. According to NLP these goals are not stated specifically enough and have unforeseen effects that keep them from truly flourishing.


NLP has a set of ingredients essential for success known as ‘well-formedness’ conditions. Leaders are most likely to be successful in the roles by avoiding problems and achieving the results they want by using these inputs.

Good leaders are aware of what gets their people going, hence communicating company goals and getting people hooked in is likely to create unity and alignment.

As Amanda Vickers elegantly puts it, “Like a cox with a crew of rowers, the leader takes responsibility for the teams safety and not only directs and controls activity but also coaches and motivates his team. “ To put it simply, communication from the leader that lacks passion and punch is not going to get the desired response from the team. On the other hand, they might buy-in to what they hear if the message is conveyed with conviction. Still, it is not energy and enthusiasm alone that begets the co-operation of the team. The leader would have to walk his talk in full measure: words and deeds have to match, if the team has to be willing to meet their leader half-way.  In NLP parlance this is called congruence and is of utmost importance for those who lead with NLP, to fine-tune.


The first thing to get a grip on when leading a group of people is where the group is at and what their aspirations are. This important first step is called pacing and it is for every good leader to put into practice. In other words, you pace others by meeting them where they are in their map of the outside world.  By getting to know what keeps them ticking and what their experience of working for the company is about, the leader can created a forum for trust to emerge. “Only once a leader has established trust can he start to lead.

 In effect then, moving people from the current state to the desired state is what leading with NLP is all about. Values, then are key in this process , because they act as the guiding force behind getting the right outcome.

According to Judith deLozier, one the first students of the founder of NLP, “NLP allows us to define effective leadership from different perceptual positions as well as define the differences between a leader, leadership and leading. Being in a formal role of leadership does not necessarily mean that the person in the role has the capabilities, skill of the degree of influence to guide a group of organizations through the maze of change. Leaders are people who are committed to creating something better and commit their heartbeats in service to something larger than themselves.”

Contributed by,

Mahesh Krshnan, Nanditha Prasad Ram