What if I just say it louder?

I’m reminded again that getting others to follow you is an art, not a science.
When I set about setting the agenda for our kick-off for the year (January) company newsletter, I wanted to do something different than normal. Normal for Rubicon is that everyone writes whatever is of interest to them. We get together to make sure we’re bringing up enough interesting ideas, and to create a publication schedule. (Which, we rarely ever stick to, because — of course — client work always takes priority but that’s another blog topic.)
For this January, I wanted to do something different, meaning better. I wanted to identify the top 10 things that our client base of high-tech firms should be paying attention to, in terms of business models, competitor models, customer dynamics and player moves. And then I wanted the team to build out the premise in their individual articles. This would allow the Rubicon team to come together and coordinate the big brains into a more clear direction and thereby create more value.
So I engaged in the editorial meeting with a clear premise of “this is what the objective is”. I also communicated the benefit to us and to our clients. Now, this is stuff of what I would call average complexity. I would even consider it relatively “no brainer”. But apparently not.
I got not push back on the idea, but resistance to listen to my ideas and candidates for the top 10. Instead of collaborating, everyone came together expecting to do “their piece”. One person came into the meeting and presented his ideas without listening to me, the redirection and my ideas. So instead of being allowed to either kill the entire idea (go back to doing whatever random things we typically write), I only got the appearance of agreement. I thought we had vetted the 10 topics and assigned them. But apparently not. (I will spare you the gore and mess of that story.)
Does this mean the team I’m talking with are not good listeners or that I am a bad communicator? Or perhaps I need to do any new direction with it fully thought out and then create handouts and specifics and presentations. Or perhaps I need to go to each person and socialize the idea so that by the time we get in a meeting, they will both get it, and follow me.
I’ve heard it said that “leadership is an art” but the reality is that following is an art too.
I want to ask: Why don’t people just “get it”!? And why don’t they get it right away? and why do I have to spend so many cycles to get people to get on the boat? Should I start repeating myself over and over again like I need to do with my 3 year old as consistency is the key to to him “getting it”. Or is it a matter of saying it differently to each person? Modulating to each style is something I know to do but it takes a lot of time. While I’m willing to do it with clients, it seems like doing to each member of my team requires me to do a lot of work. Or, should I just start saying it louder? (I hope you know, I’m kidding on that last one!)
So here’s my ideas on what could have made the experience different as a way of imparting the whole leading / following thing. As a leader, best way to get people to follow you…
1. Tell them the what and why — spelling out the outcome well. In many ways if possible. Always tee up when you’re going to change things and focus on the new benefit, and what success looks like.
2. Ask lots of open ended questions like “what questions do you have?” or “what will it take to create alignment between x and y?” That’ll cause them to dialogue with you even if they don’t care. Without a dialogue, most people won’t understand. Communicating is never 1-way.
3. Create a reason to care. Explain the benefits but then create an emotional reason to connect and fun/joyous/motivating to follow. Remember that no one does anything entirely from a rationale place. To change behavior, they have to get some benefit for them. In this situation, I focused on the benefits for the business, not for them. I wish they could see when the business is successful, they benefit but apparently that’s not always true. I needed to find a reason why this was good for any particular person.
4. Create engagement. I hate to say it but people don’t really go out of their way to make things connect. Most people, even my great team, make the initiator do all the heavy lifting before they respond with following. But if I challenge them to build a piece of it, or “do some research” or simply dump it on their desk and delegate it to them…. then all of a sudden they have a reason to engage. The more I leave on my table and less on theirs, ultimately I’ve created less engagement.
5. Tell them to follow. I think perhaps we give people too much room to “advise” and not enough clarity that you’re leading and it’s time for them to follow. Businesses are not a democracy, where everyone votes. The high functioning ones are more like benevolent dictatorships. You listen, you consider and then ultimately you decide and lead.

0 Responses:

  1. Lena West - xynoMedia. January 28, 2007 at 9:04 pm  

    This is a good piece – and it certainly does put the decision-maker in the organization in a bit of a tight spot.
    I should also mention that what’s really important first and foremost (you probably have this angle covered) is getting the “right people on the bus”.
    What I’ve found works for our team is:
    When I want to lead, I make statements.
    When I want engagement and input, I ask questions.
    Slowly but surely the team has realized, when I’m asking a question that means there’s room for “negotiation”. When I’m making a statment, that means we need to determine how to move forward from this point.


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