Effective Change Leadership Through Buy-In

A large portion of leadership is focused on change. Leaders want and need to change things such as performance, objectives, behaviors, and outcomes. Because change does not readily come to many people, leaders must learn to recognize the signs of the buy-in to the change they have proposed. In fact, change is at the very foundation of the definition of leadership: Leadership is describing the future in such vivid terms that people want to join you there. In other words, leadership is about the process of change as individuals and organizations move from “the here and now” to “the there and then.”

The is an old Chinese proverb that warns leaders: “Beware to him who thinks he leads, lest he turn around to find no one is following and he is just out for a walk by himself.” While leaders often do some of the “doing,” they are not sole practitioners in the process…they need others following. For a leader to be effective in leading change, he or she must have and maintain buy-in to the change.

I’m going to suggest three stages of buy-in to change that are exhibited by the people you are leading.

Stage One – Mental Assent

Before anyone is willing to take action in pursuit of change, he or she must understand what he or she is being asked to accomplish. Mental assent simply means that the person understands conceptually what he or she has been asked to do, and is agreeing in principle to take action in pursuit of objective. This is the first and most foundational level of buy-in, and without it, leadership fails.

Stage Two – Conviction

Conviction occurs when someone believes in the change and what it will take to make the change happen. Conviction says, “it’s MY choice” and not just something I am asked to do. Conviction is not compulsion. Compulsion only works while the consequences of not doing are feared, and that is not leadership. So unless the leader can create the environment for the person to move from mental assent to conviction, change will just remain an understood concept.

Stage Three – Action

Action happens when the individual acts out his or her convictions. In other words, conviction has become personal ownership and the individual is acting because he or she wants to. It is only at the action level that buy-in occurs and change can be sustained.

Effective leaders take time along the journey to assess themselves and the people they have asked to join them on the journey three key questions:

1. At which stage is each person (including me)?

2. Do I understand why each person is at his or her current stage?

3. If someone is not at Action, do I understand specifically what is holding him or her back?

By understanding the three stages of buy-in and periodically assessing each team member, you’ll find yourself becoming a more successful leader while helping your team to become more responsible thinkers and performers. At the end of the day, there is plenty of room at the top for people who can lead this way.

This article is part of the many effective leadership practices taught in Boyer Management Group’s Leading Through People series. To learn more about Leading Through People, please visit us at www.boyermanagement.com, email us at info@boyermanagement.com, or call us at 215-942-0982.

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