Getting Folks on BoardOct 17, 2023
At a recent corporate speaking event, I was sharing my message on high performing teams and how to build a winning culture. An audience member posed a great question.
‘How do you inspire reluctant followers to get on board?’
In my experience, this is a common problem that leaders are sometimes embarrassed to seek help with. Once we have been tapped as leaders, we worry that we are expected to be able to motivate everyone and keep the whole team aligned. The problem is…this can be an impossible task. At times, we inherit folks we didn’t choose to be members of our team, and they’re resistant to new ways of doing things. Sometimes, we have folks who have just developed poor work habits over time and are resistant to feedback. Other times, we have folks on our teams who will feel victimized by your focus on trying to change their processes or work output.
Some folks are just really hard to manage–especially the ones who are at the top of the pack already. They value autonomy and freedom--good luck telling them what to do. They might see themselves as the leaders already and not realize that there is still room to improve.
Over time, everyone will come across a team member who just doesn’t seem to want to follow and become a part of the team. This will create stress for your leadership team and could potentially derail you from achieving your goals.
I have learned as a coach and leader to focus on a few key factors when thinking about building your culture.
First, and foremost, no one will follow you unless they trust you. It takes time to build trust, and trust is the foundation of leadership. As you enter a new role, it will be important to make time for relationship building. Until you have observed and genuinely listened to the individuals that make up your new team, they will likely be skeptical of your new ideas’ viability in their domain. Trust means letting your folks have a few wins early in the process. It might mean letting your team know when you have made an error. It means taking time to be authentic and vulnerable and leading from a place of generosity.
Questions to Try
When I meet with a team member who seems reluctant, I ask these key questions:
- Help me understand what about this thing I’m asking is a challenge for you?
- What are you seeing that I can’t see?
- What would it take to get you on board?
- What do you need that you don’t have to be able to make this happen?
Know when it’s time to move them toward their greatness
If you’ve tried every way you can think of to build trust:
- meetings in and out of the office,
- team bonding activities,
- authentic and genuine conversations,
- coaching and praising,
and there’s still no change, it’s likely time to move toward a performance improvement plan. After that, if they’re still not getting on board, it may be time to move them along. This is unpopular to say, but in high-performing organizations, your effort and time is best spent on your best and brightest—those folks who are happy to be there and eager to learn. As hard as it is to turn someone away (and I’ve had my own share of grey hairs over this), often times, I’ve found encouraging and helping folks find a new path ends up being best for their mental health and your team’s mental health and output, as well.
So, as a leader, remember that coming across folks who seem resistant or are difficult to motivate is par for the course. You can't inspire everyone, but by building trust, recognizing when to make tough decisions, and prioritizing your high-potential team members, you can create a team with a winning culture that propels your organization toward its goals.