How to Make Leadership Easier–Avoid Trying to Get Buy-In

(Part 2 of 7)

When facilitating a team’s discussion of whether to purchase software, a team member bombarded the leader’s suggestion with continuous questions. Each answer by the leader prompted added questions.  Eventually, the leader postponed the decision.

Afterwards, I asked the leader, “Why did you devote so much time answering the member’s questions.” 

“I was trying to get his buy-in,” the leader said.

Spending a lot of time seeking buy-in, I believe, is a mistake.  . 

A buy-in approach often gives too much attention to what authors Ella Ingram and Kerice Doten-Snitker call CAVE people—Colleagues Against Virtually Everything.  Decisions become win-lose contests.  The leader eventually prevails and the member loses, or the leader makes an unnecessary compromise and the member wins.  

Successful change agents operate from a shared vision of what decisions attempt to create and propose potential options, seek suggestions, and move toward a decision. 

When a CAVE person objects, the leader my validate the member with, “To be sure I understand, you are saying . . .?”  The objector will agree or attempt further clarification.

The leader can then move on with something like, “I understand you support another option.  I accept some disagreement as normal.”  

While it is important for all to have a say, not everyone will get their way.

How to Make Leadership Easier–Don’t Fix Others

(Part 1 of 7)

To workshop participants, I asked, “Do any of your high performing colleagues do things that irritate you?”

A participant quickly reported that he had a staff member who argued too much.  “Anytime I suggest something,” he said, “he tells me and everyone else what a bad idea it is.”

“How long has this been going on?”

“Since he joined my team, almost three years.”

“What are you doing about it?”

“I explain my position and tell him he needs to stop being so critical.” 

“How many times have you told him that?”

“Too many to count.”

You can bet, many—parents, teachers, family members, friends, managers– have also told this argumentative individual about his galling habit.   

By the time people begin careers, their core behaviors are reasonably hard wired; and your odds of fixing others’ persistent negative habits are about as good as winning the lottery. 

Should persons with annoying ways be new to your supervision, should you coach them once or twice on how to better respond?  Of course, but if your coaching has little effect, and it probably will, discontinue coaching.  It is not working.  

Learn to tolerate or terminate (don’t rehabilitate) high-performing employees with irritating behaviors.    

Renewed Energy Indicates Stage 3 of Change

(Part 3 of 3)

“It took a while,” explained a manager, “but my team eventually began to lean into the change.”

“What is different?”  I asked.

“My informal leaders began embracing the new system and became quite adept using its features.  Almost all accepted the new ways and continued learning how to thrive under the “current rules.” 

One sign of Stage 3 may be a subtle energy renewal.  Workloads seem less heavy as members transition from tentative “I’m not sure I’m doing this correctly,” to confidence in how to perform at a high level.   

Members also become more open to learning about opportunities afforded in the new system or policy.  And contributors, once again, become self-assured in their roles and tasks. 

During Stage 3, it is important to verify the link between individuals’ work output and overall team goals.  Be sure to broadcast team accomplishments and individual contributions. 

Be aware that some members may be slower than others to arrive at Stage 3.  And some may experience frustration and lapse back into earlier stages.  Continue to enforce deadlines and encourage late comers but be cautious about spending too much effort on the laggards.  Ensure to all that it is the committed who drive the bus.

The Neutral Zone–Stage 2 of Change

“I’m confused.” 

“I’m unsure of my role in the new system.”

“The change is creating extra work for me.”

“We should be further along than we are.”

The comments above reflect team member concerns during Stage 2 of change.  Bill Bridges identifies Stage 2 as the Neutral Zone.  Some members continue to cling to the old ways, and most do not have a clear vision of the new.  Confusion, uncertainty, impatience, and fear may generate low morale, anxiety and skepticism during this stage.

Stay with targeted deadlines during the Neutral Zone but avoid the temptation to press issues.  Rather, consider deprioritizing some items and perhaps offer additional resources where practical.  

To guide members through the Neutral Zone, let people know that their concerns are normal.  Focus on short-term operational goals and key performance indicators (KPI’s).  Display metrics that show progress toward outcomes and give individuals frequent feedback on their individual contributions. 

Depending on the complexity of the change, the Neutral Zone may last for weeks or even months.  Just know that unsettling concerns and emotions are a normal and they will eventually pass.

Letting Go–The First Stage of Leading Change

(Part 1 of 3)

A project manager reported to me, “My team was very excited about our software upgrade.  We were having a lot of issues with our old system.” 

“I hear a ‘but’ coming,” I responded. 

“Yes, even though we noticed immediate improvements, some were reluctant to use many of the new features.  I guess people just don’t like change.”

Change consultant, Bill Bridges, explains that it is the transition, not the change, that some resist.  And Richards offers three stages of transition to the new:  letting go, the neutral zone, and the new beginning.

Whether change is perceived as good or bad, all changes require that people let go of something they are familiar with—a daily routine, contact with a peer, a meeting time, a routine report, etc. At this stage, people may feel fearful, saddened, frustrated or uncertain.

The first step in engaging members to accept the new is to help them let go of the old.  Encourage talk about memories and stories of the old while providing meaningful training and support for the new.  Most of us fear the unknown.  Show how skills and knowledge of the old will be essential in making the new work.  Accept that struggles in letting go are real.

A Three-Part Prescription to Burnout

“It is no fun going to work anymore,” a manager said to me. 

“What has changed?” I asked.

“We have more business than we can handle.  Our supply chain is clogged.  We are struggling with remote work.  Employees are leaving and it is hard to hire people. It is frustrating, sometimes depressing.  I wake up tired and think it may be time to retire.”   

“I believe you may be experiencing symptoms of burnout.  How are you going to deal with it?”

“We need to resolve some of our work issues, but I sure don’t see a path forward.”

Deep personal involvement when struggling to meet excessive demands without energy replenishment often results in burnout.  However, energy replenishment may be a healthier approach than working harder and longer on work issues.

Physical care, spiritual growth, and social engagement can become the energizer bunny for many. 

Our bodies function better when we regularly use all the parts and feed it with proper nutrients.   Motion is lotion and food is fuel. 

A meaningful spiritual life comforts humans during trying times.   

We are herd animals. Fullfilling interactions with family and friends can restock our will to persist.   

The Grapevine or Immediate Supervisor as Sources of Information?

“We’ve surveyed our employees,” a manager said, “and asked them what they think their managers could do better.”

“Let me guess their Number One suggestion,” I responded.


“I’m guessing your employees wanted managers to be better communicators.”

“How did you know?”

“Communication is always Number One.”

Employees want to know anything and everything that may impact their work life, and they want to know it the instant management knows it.  However, employees’ desired sources of information are sometimes different from their actual sources. 

Research by professors Snyder and Morris in their article, “Organizational Communication and Performance,” published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, revealed that employees’ primary sources of information were immediate supervisor, the grapevine, company policies and small group meetings.

When asked how they prefer to get information, employees responded:  immediate supervisor, small group meetings, top executives and company policies.  The grapevine and social media were their least preferred sources.

Effective leaders realize that they never NOT communicate.  Failure to fully reveal changes in plans, strategies and processes spur the creation of lightening fast rumor mills.  Effective leaders spend considerable time in 1:1 and small group meetings communicating face-to-face.