Leadership can be a pretty enjoyable gig when your team is 100% behind you. It seems like every decision you make turns out to the be the right one, morale is high, people are engaged and productive, and everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction.
It’s a different story, though, when you’re trying to lead people who don’t want to follow. Work slows down, decisions are questioned, and people get disgruntled. Leading in this kind of environment can be arduous, painful, and a test of your patience and commitment.
If you find yourself in this predicament, it’s imperative you proactively address the situation in positive and constructive ways. It likely won’t resolve itself on its own, and if left unattended, will severely hinder the performance of your team and cripple your leadership effectiveness. Here are six practical strategies you can employ:
1. Make sure the goal and expectations are clear—Just because you’ve shared a PowerPoint presentation of your strategic plan a few times doesn’t mean people are clear on how it specifically applies to them on an individual basis. What appears as resistance to your leadership may be a lack of clarity. People who are clear on what’s expected can make a decision on whether or not to get on board, and it makes your job as a leader easier to evaluate their performance.
2. Determine if it’s a can’t do or won’t do problem – It’s important to understand the difference between can’t do and won’t do performance. Can’t do performance is due to a person not having the skills, training, or ability to follow your leadership. Those individuals need direction, support, training, tools, and resources to help them perform. Won’t do performance is an attitude or commitment issue. These individuals have the skills and abilities to follow your leadership, but for whatever reason they are choosing not to get on board. It’s important to know the difference because you need to deal with them in different ways.
3. Engage with a few resistors who carry great influence—It’s important to understand the perspective of those who are resistant to your leadership. Actively engage a few key resistors to understand their point of view and to encourage them to get on board. If you can win them over, they can use their influence to positively influence their peers. But don’t let the tail wag the dog. Spending too much time trying to convert the non-believers can distract from moving forward with those already in your camp. See the next point.
4. Focus on creating positive momentum—Nothing creates a positive team culture like winning. We see it in athletic teams all the time. Winning seems to cure all ills, and if you can create positive momentum with your team, it will spread positive morale and silence the doubters.
5. Incorporate the team’s input as much as possible—People will be more likely to follow your leadership if they have a hand in shaping the plan. I love the saying that goes “people who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.” People will own what they create, and the more you’re able to foster a sense of ownership among your people the more they’ll be inclined to follow your direction.
6. Be willing to make a necessary ending—There will be some individuals who won’t ever follow your leadership no matter what you do. For those people you may need to consider a necessary ending, a concept I learned from Dr. Henry Cloud. Leaders should do all they can to help team members to succeed, and when those efforts don’t improve the situation, it may be time to part ways.
Trying to lead people who won’t follow is a tremendous challenge. It’s time-consuming and exhausting, yet following these strategies can help you navigate the situation. Feel free to leave a comment with any suggestions you have for tackling this issue.
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