Are You an Engaging Leader?

Six ways to gain buy-in and create loyal followers

By Michael Wilkinson, CMF
Managing Director, Leadership Strategies, Inc.
Author, The Secrets of Facilitation andThe Secrets to Masterful Meetings

In all of our facilitation courses we talk about the power of buy-in. When leaders gain their people’s buy-in, the “I have to” turns into “I get to.” And we’ve found that people put far more energy into activities they feel like they “get to” do rather than they feel like they “have to” do. The challenge for leaders is how to consistently get their teams’ to buy-in to the program. How to create willing followers and eager workers out of apathetic groups of employees without making drastic changes like letting people go.

We believe you do this by clearly stating your vision (where you want the organization to go and by when), your strategy (what you want the organization to do to get there), your values (how you want the organization to operate) and roles (who is responsible for what in making the vision happen). And by understanding the first and fundamental secret of leadership through facilitation, “if they create it they understand it, they accept it, and they own it.

The Fundamental
Secret of Facilitation

If they create it, they understand it,
they accept it, and they own it.

What makes it powerful? If “power” is somewhat synonymous with “getting results,” then this secret is extremely powerful. The secret can increase your ability to achieve results, simply because the secret is linked to effectiveness and human motivation.

Gaining Buy-in Dr. Robert Zawacki from the University of Colorado in his book “Transforming the Mature Information Technology Organization” put the secret this way:

ED = RD x CD

That is, Effective Decisions = The Right Decision times Commitment to the Decision. Dr. Zawacki’s point is that the multiplication sign in the formula means that even the best decision can be rendered completely ineffective if commitment to the decision is lacking. A group of consultants might have created the 100% solution for a client, but if the client doesn’t buy-in to the solution, the effectiveness of the solution would be essentially zero. Likewise, if leaders create solutions that their people don’t buy-in to, once more, the effectiveness is zero.

So how do you gain buy-in? We have found that engaging leaders do a few things very well to gain buy-in around solving problems.

  1. Clarity. Leaders that command the greatest level of buy-in have great clarity around purpose and product: why are we doing this, what must we have when we are done? They cover every base and make sure there are no tasks performed that do not tie directly back to purpose and product.
  2. Passion. Engaging leaders are able to communicate why the vision important to them and why it should be important to everyone else. With their high energy, they inspire their staff with their own enthusiasm and get people excited about solving the problem.
  3. Empowerment. They explain what they need from each person; whether they are looking for a decision, a recommendation, or simply ideas. They help people feel good about the role they play and illustrate, for each team member, the positive effects that realizing the vision will have on them.
  4. Bridge-Building. Engaging leaders listen and listen well. When others see conflict and differences, engaging leaders see similarities. They understand that disagreements occur because the people involved lack shared information, have different values or experiences, or are affected by outside factors. Like facilitators, these leaders are able to use effective strategies for building consensus.
  5. Praise and Feedback. Engaging leaders make it a point to praise the work done, the effort made, and results achieved. And even when the effort does not meet expectations, engaging leaders are able to lift people up while letting them know very specifically what to improve. These leaders praise well, praise often, and praise specifically.
  6. Follow-through. Engaging leaders do what they say they are going to do. And when they can’t follow-through, they are proactive in letting their people know they can’t and why.

We believe this approach helps leaders use the fundamental secret of facilitation to gain buy-in and faithful followers. If a team creates it, they understand it, they accept it, and they own it. As you think about the way you undertake other activities in your organization, are you using the fundamental secret of facilitation? Are there other traits you’ve found that engaging leaders have?  Join in the discussion in our LinkedIn group.

Interested in learning more facilitation techniques?  Check out our course, The Effective Facilitator.

Michael Wilkinson is the Managing Director of Leadership Strategies – The Facilitation Company, and a much sought-after trainer, facilitator and speaker.  He is a Certified Master Facilitator and a Certified Professional Facilitator.  As a past president of the Southeast Association of Facilitators and a board member of the National Institute of Facilitation, Michael is a national leader in the facilitation industry.  You can get more tips from either of Michael’s books, The Secrets of Facilitation or The Secrets to Masterful Meetings. You can receive a signed copy through our website.

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