8 Tips For Leading Those Who Don’t Want to Follow

Want to test your leadership metal? See how well
you do when leading those not inclined to follow.
Surrounding yourself with like-minded people may
be comforting, it might even seem like a good idea,
but it’s not the stuff of great leadership. The best
leaders are not only capable of effectively leading
those who hold differing opinions and perspectives
– they thrive on it. In today’s column I’ll share 8
Tips for transforming tough relationships into
productive relationships.
Poor leaders find themselves mired down in
organizations unnecessarily suffering from
corporate politics, turf-wars, empire building, title
inflated ego and arrogance, and the list goes on…
Effective leaders don’t have to deal with the
aforementioned dysfunction because they
understand how to align opposing views and
diverse interests.
If unique perspectives, philosophical differences,
and dissenting opinions are viewed as an
opportunity as opposed to a set-back, growth and
development are certain to follow. What I like to
refer as “positional gaps” are best closed by
listening to all sides, finding common ground, and
then letting the principle of doing the right thing
guide the process.
When a leader develops the skill to convert
negative conflict into creative tension, they have
found the secret sauce for developing high
performance teams. Mature leaders see individual
differences as fuel for development, not as barriers
to success. The goal of a leader is not to clone him/
herself, but to harness individual strengths for
the greater good of the organization. This is best
accomplished by respecting individual talents; not
stifling them.
It is absolutely possible to build very productive
relationships with even the most adversarial of
individuals. Regardless of a person’s original intent,
opinion or position, the key to closing a positional
gap is simply a matter of finding common ground in
order to establish rapport. Moreover, building
rapport is easily achieved assuming your
motivations for doing so are sincere. I have always
found that rapport is quickly developed when you
listen, care, and attempt to help people succeed.
While building and maintaining rapport with people
with whom you disagree is certainly more
challenging, many of the same rules expressed in
my comments above still apply. I have found that
often times conflict resolution simply just requires
more intense focus on understanding the needs,
wants and desires of the other party. If opposing
views are worth the time and energy to debate,
then they are worth a legitimate effort to gain
alignment on perspective and resolution on
position. However this will rarely happen if lines of
communication do not remain open. Candid,
effective communication is best maintained
through a mutual respect and rapport.
In an attempt to resolve any conflict, the first step
is to identify and isolate the specific areas of
difference being debated. The sad fact is many
business people are absolutists in that they only
see things in terms of rights and wrongs. Thinking
in terms of “my way” is right and therefore “other
ways” are wrong is the basis for polarizing any
relationship, which quickly results in converting
discussions into power struggles.
However when a situation can be seen through the
lens of difference, and a position is simply a matter
of opinion not a totalitarian statement of fact, then
cooperation and compromise is possible.
Identifying and understanding differences allows
people (regardless of title) to shift their position
through compromise and negotiation while
maintaining respect and rapport. The following
perspectives if kept top of mind will help in
identifying and bridging positional gaps:
Listening leads to understanding.
Respect leads to acceptance.
Accepting a person where they are creates an
bond of trust.
Trust leads to a willingness to be open to:
New opportunities;
New collaborations;
New strategies;
New ideas, and;
New attitudes.
The following 8 tips will allow you to move from
being entangled in a positional or philosophical
juxtaposition toward finding alignment :
1. Be Consistent: If your desire is to minimize
misunderstandings, then I would suggest you
stop confusing people. Say what you mean,
mean what you say, and follow-through on
your commitments. Most people don’t have
to agree with you 100% of the time, but they
do need to trust you 100% of the time. Trust
cannot exist where leaders are fickle,
inconsistent, indecisive, or display a lack of
character. Never be swayed by consensus
that calls you to compromise your values,
rather be guided by doing the right thing.
Finally, know that no person is universally
right or universally liked, and become at
peace with that.
2. The Importance Factor: Not every
difference needs to be resolved. In fact, most
differences don’t require intervention as they
actually contribute to a dynamic, creative,
innovative culture. Remember that it’s not
important be right, and more importantly,
that you don’t have to be right for the right
things to be accomplished. Pick your battles
and avoid conflict for the sake of conflict.
However if the issue is important enough to
create a conflict, then it is surely important
enough to resolve. If the issue, circumstance,
or situation is important enough, and there is
enough at stake, people will do what is
necessary to open lines of communication
and close positional gaps.
3. Make Respect a Priority: Disagreement
and disrespect are two different things, or at
least they should be. Regardless of whether
or not perspectives and opinions differ, a
position of respect should be adhered to and
maintained. Respect is at the core of building
meaningful relationships. It is the foundation
that supports high performance teams,
partnerships, superior and
subordinate relationships, and peer-to-
peer relationships. Respecting the right to
differ while being productive is a concept that
all successful executives and entrepreneurs
4. Define Acceptable Behavior: You know
what they say about assuming…Just having a
definition for what constitutes acceptable
behavior is a positive step in avoiding
unnecessary conflict. Creating a framework
for decisioning, using a published delegation
of authority statement, encouraging sound
business practices in collaboration, team
building, leadership development, and talent
management will all help avoid conflicts.
5. Hit Conflict Head-on: You can only resolve
problems by proactively seeking to do so.
While you can’t always prevent conflicts, it
has been my experience that the secret to
conflict resolution is in fact conflict
prevention where possible. By actually
seeking out areas of potential conflict and
proactively intervening in a well
reasoned and decisive fashion you will likely
prevent certain conflicts from ever arising. If
a conflict does flair up, you will likely
minimize its severity by dealing with it
6. Understanding the WIIFM Factor:
Understanding the other person’s WIIFM
(What’s In It For Me) position is critical. It is
absolutely essential to understand other’s
motivations prior to weighing in. The way to
avoid conflict is to help those around you
achieve their objectives. If you approach
conflict from the perspective of taking the
action that will help others best achieve their
goals you will find few obstacles will stand in
your way with regard to resolving conflict.
7. View Conflict as Opportunity: Hidden
within virtually every conflict is the potential
for a tremendous teaching/learning
opportunity. Where there is disagreement
there is an inherent potential for growth
and development. If you’re a CEO who
doesn’t leverage conflict for team building
and leadership development purposes you’re
missing a great opportunity.
8. Clarity of Purpose: Everyone who works for
me knows that I care about them as an
individual. They are important to me. They
know that I’ll go to great lengths to work with
them so long as one thing remains the focus
point – the good of the organization. So long
as the issues being worked on are leading us
toward our vision, they know they’ll have my
attention regardless of positional gaps or
personal differences. Likewise, if things
degenerate into placing pride or ego ahead of
other team members or the organization as a
whole, they know I’ll have no tolerance
The bottom line is that people matter, and but for
people, organizations don’t exist. It’s important to
remember that a manager exists when the
company says so, but that said manager only really
becomes a leader when their team says so. As a
leader you have only two choices when it comes to
your people – serve them and care for them.
Sometimes this means working through challenging
scenarios and situations. If as a leader you’re not
up to this task, then you should rethink your
decision to lead.


8 thoughts on “8 Tips For Leading Those Who Don’t Want to Follow

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