In our organization’s work with children and families, one of the core tenants we teach our staff is to start where the child and family is at — not where you think they ought to be, or where you are, but where they are in that moment. “Shoulding” them, shaming them or scolding them because of where they are does not help them move forward faster. In fact, such approaches often raise their defenses in ways that slow their progress. Guess what? The same principles that work with kids and families also work with the grown-ups you are trying to lead on a daily basis.
Leaders often find themselves “farther ahead” than their people. Before we implement a change initiative, or try to get our people to think differently about a topic or approach, we have usually already been thinking about it for a while. We have worked through the questions, the alternative options, and done our own internal wrangling before we decide to introduce the new approach. And yet even though we had to walk through that process before moving forward, once we have reached a conclusion, there is a tendency to expect that our people will immediately get on board — just because we think they should. Oh, wouldn’t that make life easier . . .
Even in our hurry up, instant everything world, there is no shortcut around Lao Tzu’s observation that, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Have you given your people a roadmap for how to get from where they are to the intended destination, or have you just assumed they would figure it out the same way you did? Blaming, bullying or belittling someone who isn’t where you want them to be rarely prompts them to get on board.
So how do you encourage someone to take that first (or second) step?
• Identify the goal and assume positive intent.
• Clearly articulate why the new course of action is important.
• Walk them through the steps you took in arriving at your decision.
• Listen to and acknowledge their perspectives, questions and concerns.
• Develop a path forward that honors a range of “starting points.”
Just because someone isn’t where we want them to be, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are difficult, or uncommitted, or not as smart as we are . . . it simply means they are in a different spot. You’re the leader. You still get to make the call. Consider, however, that the time spent getting people on board on the front end allows you to go farther and get there faster.
Need to lead your people somewhere important? Start where they are. No shoulding allowed.