Data beats no data 98% of the time, but sometimes even solid data will not dent a person’s view of reality. Even more frustrating are the frequent situations where two individuals look at the same data and draw opposite conclusions!
We don’t like to be wrong. We don’t want to hear information that would clearly make us wrong. We like our echo chambers and our interpretation of “facts” which support our preciously-held worldview. Everyone will readily acknowledge mistakes were made; it’s considerably easier to acknowledge the mistakes of others rather than ourselves. Changing people’s minds is incredibly difficult.
We’re also wired to be fearful of most changes. Status quo feels safer, even if we don’t entirely like it. Few people in your organization are eager to take risks on the unknown or uncertain. We may say, “The safest future is the one you invent” but most people are going to passively let others go first.
You’ll have a few people with you, and a few standing squarely against your vision. The majority will be in the passive middle, quietly grumbly but always watching your leadership carefully.
What’s a leader to do, especially when executing the vision requires that people get on board and support a new direction?
General advice: Lead humbly but firmly. Lead with patient endurance. Sharpen your skills of persuasion (not manipulation). Lead by example. Lean into it, and expect hard. Work closely with those who get engaged early and demonstrate progress in the new direction. Do not expect 100% joyful engagement with a new direction. Your positional authority is an important but relatively weak tool for long-term organizational change. Use it as the last tool you pull out from your toolbox.
Dealing with those actively standing against you: Include them but don’t spend as much energy on them as you do those aligned with you. Express your empathy for the difficulty of the direction you’ve chosen. Remind yourself frequently that they’re not an evil enemy. There is evil in the world, but in most of our business engagements Hanlon’s Razor is more appropriate: “Never attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by stupidity.”
Glenn’s variation: Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by sincere stupidity. Well-meaning but wrong. Well-intentioned but ignorant of facts. Well-spoken but completely at odds with how technology, process, and people actually operate.
Ask yourself, “Is this sincere person coachable? Does he/she have the ability to change his/her mind based on hard evidence? I am willing to expend the energy to make this work?” If the answer is yes, don’t give up on them. Cycle back a few times to speak with them, carefully watching to signs of acceptance and willing participation.
Engaging the passive majority: Showcase and call attention to early successes and progress will suffice. Don’t over-interpret their lack of enthusiasm as negative criticism of you. Continue to lead by example. Be generous with credit to others for their contributions. Plant seeds, patiently water and fertilize, and growth will come in time. Protect your tribe.