It’s one of the business world’s enduring truisms that if you bear the responsibility for achieving your organization’s goals you will need the support of others. It is my opinion, based on years of corporate experience, that an emphasis on hierarchical power structures will rarely convince people to follow a project leader. So what can leaders do to turn employees into followers? How do you get everyone to buy into your projects and goals?
Here are seven ways to add buy-in power to your leadership.
Be a role model
Being seen as a good role model and leading from the front can give your leadership powerful credibility. You should always be prepared to do whatever you expect from your people, since it enhances the likelihood that positive behaviour will be imitated. For better or worse, the behaviour of leaders has a signaling effect and contributes significantly to the corporate culture and work atmosphere.
People thrive when they feel valued and are taken seriously. However, for any appreciation to come across as sincere it is important to understand why achievements are being acknowledged.
Although showing appreciation should not only involve the work performance, but also the person, it is important to be clear about what is being acknowledged and why it is being acknowledged. Celebrating mediocrity is counter-productive and lowers the bar for the rest of the team. A good leader knows how to praise on a personal level, while keeping the focus on the actual achievement.
Lead with conviction and insight
Leaders need to believe in the organization’s goals and understand the pathways to achieving them, before they can convince others to share their vision. In sharing their vision, leaders should bear in mind that most conversations involve the collision of subjective worldviews, with participants generally vying to convince each other of their own goals.
Inspiring others to work towards a common goal requires the ability to put yourself in their shoes and arguing your case from their perspective. Immersing yourself in other people’s worlds will help you gain insights that will add staying power to your arguments.
Semantics are important
Language plays a vital role in persuasion, but be careful of using rhetoric that is meant to be persuasive but can be perceived as cynical and pompous. The same caution should be applied to jargon and other forms of corporate speak. You may impress in the short term, but without lasting effect. Verbosity and hubris may sound good to your own ears, but will either numb or alienate your audience.
Clear concise communication that paints a coherent picture of the task at hand have a much better success rate and are less likely to fall on deaf ears. As the quote goes, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.
Structure your arguments properly
Well-structured arguments carry more weight. Techniques such as constructing a thesis and counter-thesis can help you put forward a well-rounded argument that everyone buys into. Using this technique you introduce a topic that leads to a thesis (position 1), counter that with a contradictory thesis (position 2) to summarize the whole, and then offer a (compromise) solution.
You can also use the ‘chain of reasoning’ approach in which a sequence of arguments build on each other and integrate the opinion of the person you seek to convince to form a logical chain that leads to an appeal, e.g. “This approach is suitable for you, because …”
Empathy is a two-way street
A willingness to understand different perspectives can help to contextualise employee behaviour and unlock solutions. However, when it comes to understanding the actions of an employee in a conflict situation, showing empathy to discern the situation should be clearly distinguished from blindly taking on the employee’s point of view.
In the conversation itself, it is vital to explain to the employee how her behaviour affects the organization and the rest of the team. Listening to a long-winded apology does not constitute empathy. Instead, empathy should be used to contextualize situations and prevent future negative behaviour. At the end of the day, it is not a therapy session.
Empathy can be developed by being an attentive listener and keen observer, but should always be balanced with your own interests. Too much compassion and understanding can easily be interpreted as weakness.
Stay authentic and consistent
Without authenticity and consistency the other sources of leadership power will not be effective. For example, your words and deeds as a leader should complement one another, otherwise you will lose credibility very quickly. Trying to emulate something or someone which you are not will also not have the desired effect. Be true to who you are and any mistakes may be forgiven, especially if you are willing to admit them.