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Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast? - PART 2 of 4

A four part series on some of the major factors that can either feed or starve your strategic direction.

I once worked for a leader with excellent debating abilities. No matter the topic, this leader always “won” the debate. Yes, it is ultimately the responsibility of a leader to set the direction for their team. If you are lucky, you will surround yourself with smart, thoughtful people holding different points of view. But if every debate ends with you “winning” and someone else losing, sooner rather than later those smart, thoughtful people will find another way.

A senior corporate executive with a team of senior leaders looking to collaborate on strategic initiatives
Do you Buy-in Among Senior Team Leaders Blog

To further demonstrate this point, I reference an amusing but instructive TED Talk video that periodically circles the web. Created in 2010 by Derek Sivers, the video is entitled How to Start A Movement. In summary, it is a video of one guy dancing by himself at an outdoor concert. The voice-over is reminiscent of a BBC wild kingdom documentary and describes how one odd-looking guy dancing alone in a field evolves a massive dance party. His secret? It’s actually his first follower. Once a leader finds his first follower, the crowd begins to build. So too is it in strategic planning, particularly when you are trying to lead change.

Harvard Business School Professor, John Kotter, dedicated an entire book to the subject of “buy-in”. In this book Kotter asserts “unless you win support for your ideas, from people at all levels of your organization, big ideas never seem to take hold or have the impact you want.” He says leaders ought to be aware of the difference between “buy-in” and “sell-in”. When we attempt to “sell” an idea, we tend “to consider every objection and develop an air-tight defence for each one”.

Real buy-in, he writes, “involves at least some element of co-creation. It invites discussion, debate, and allows everyone to feel even more vested in the outcome.”

Co-creation does not necessarily mean achieving consensus. It doesn’t mean everyone just listens and nods. It means you actively cultivate a safe place to discuss ideas, space where people know their opinions are being heard and respected, even when there is disagreement.

And when you encounter resistance?

Kotter suggests you “use strong, open-ended questions to promote understanding on both sides. Start by asking the employee how you can work together to overcome their concerns. What would make them more comfortable with this solution?” You don’t need full agreement, but creating buy-in is actually about sharing power in positive ways.

To paraphrase Sivers “It’s your the first followers that will transform you from a lone nut into a leader”.

To explore this topic deeper, check out leadership coach, Kristi Hedges’ method for creating Buy-In, a model called Dial-In™.

Need help with strategic planning, leadership communication or other executive leadership consulting services? Send me an email and let's start a conversation!


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