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The Blog

Leadership & Getting Buy-In

Picture it: you’ve just been tasked with dealing with a particular challenge within your team. It’s your job to make sure that the problem at hand gets addressed -- and moreover, gets resolved (which, admittedly, is not necessarily the same thing.) 

At first, you’re a little daunted by the assignment. And then, as you think about it, you get excited. Because you’ve been here before. You have seen this exact scenario, or one pretty close to it. You realize that you know EXACTLY how to solve the problem. Piece of cake.

You meet with your team, all lit up and ready to implement change. You allow your enthusiasm to buoy you up, you share your insights (with excitement, because everyone knows that excitement is contagious) and you send folks on their way to implement the solutions you’ve put forth. You know they’re aware of the problem and you are certain that they are on side-- because you’ve seen your strategy work in the past, you know it yields results, and, as their leader you’ve shared your enthusiasm so why wouldn’t they get on board, right?  

Wrong. Because you’ve missed a critical step.  

Before I share what the missing step in the process is, let me say this. One of the mistakes leaders make is subscribing to the belief that as a leader, it is your job to tell folks what to do. This is often framed as “steering the ship” and “setting direction”. There is some merit in this belief, to a point; however, it doesn’t stand solidly on its own. Because while you absolutely CAN tell people what to do, doing so will not yield the outcome you desire unless you have one essential thing: “buy in”.  

Unless you get your team, your followers, engaged in your solution, it will fail. No matter how brilliant it is. Because folks want to feel like they are part of the process.  

So, the missing step in the above scenario is this: asking folks what they think.  

I know; you don’t have time to ask, right? You’re on a timeline. You need to see results NOW (or at least, pretty darn soon). If you ask folks what they think, then there will be (gasp!) discussion; there might be other ideas that folks want to try; they might dare to disagree with you, and how will that exactly be helpful? Your idea has worked in the past, you know it will work here, and they just need to trust you, dammit! 

The thing is, trust isn’t built because you show up and tell people to trust you. You need to demonstrate that you are trustworthy. You need to show up as part of the solution -- recognizing that your team is as much a part of that as you are. You need to be available, and reliable, and to some degree predictable. And these things are not demonstrated when you first show up; they’re demonstrated over time.  

Know this: asking folks what they think, soliciting their input, addressing their concerns, no matter how much time it takes, always yields better, more effective, and lasting results than just telling folks what to do. If you are set on a course of action, that is fine -- and you still need to give folks a chance to raise concerns, ask their questions, present their perspectives -- because otherwise your solution will be implemented half-heartedly at best, and may very well be undermined at worst. When your team doesn’t feel valued enough to participate in the discussion, human nature is such that you will NOT get full cooperation.  

Bottom-line: being a leader does not mean that you get to unilaterally dictate strategy, or policy, or protocol. Leading is about inspiring, engaging, and gently nudging. Yes, you’re on a timeline. Yes, you know what you’re doing. Yes, you’ve got insight. And, believe it or not, your team is in the same boat. So give them a chance to be on board with you. Otherwise, they will retreat below deck, chip away at the hull of your ship, and sink your plans in spite of your best intentions.