"The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority." - Kenneth Blanchard
Perhaps the ultimate sign of a leader's ability to influence is when they are able to secure others' buy-in, whether it is to an idea, a plan of action or a future possibility.
If you want exceptional results rather than merely incremental improvement, you must successfully enroll people in more than raising their hand to say:
"I will follow you"...
...because it's expected
...because you are the boss
...because you know more than I ...because it is just easier to go along
...because I really have no choice
The power and authority granted by your position, no matter how high on the ladder you are, will never be enough to enroll others to own your idea, initiative or vision as if it were their own. Positional authority alone will, at best, get you compliance.
Some might follow your lead with sincerity and commitment, but from a context of compliance. Others will follow compliantly, but grudgingly, dragging their heels and the energy of you and others along with them.
Influential leaders create owners, not followers
Unfortunately, the term buy in has been overused and often misused, the pursuit of which all too often results in behavior that runs contrary to the ultimate goal of buy in - to create owners, not just followers.
The word "buy" implies that there has been an exchange of value. To buy in implies that the buyer has chosen to make an investment in exchange for something of value to them.
Ultimately, you need people who will invest their mind, their energy and even their heart in exchange for something about which they can authentically say, "This is mine, too, and I will do whatever it takes to make it so."
You need people who can generate their own answers along the way, rather than wait for the leader who knows all and can tell them what to do when things are not clear or don't go according to plan.
Achieving buy-in in an organizational context is a transaction.
It requires an engaging conversation vs. an inspirational monologue. When done well, this conversation results in what is perhaps the most precious asset a leader has - true ownership among the people they lead.
How do you make the shift from leading from position to leading through influence?
It requires one fundamental and significant shift in how you approach getting buy-in: from focusing on trying to getting others into your world, to actively engaging with them in their world.
Consider this. For marketers to be successful (i.e., drive sales and boost customer satisfaction), they must enter the world of the customer.
For company leaders, it's really no different. For enrollment conversations to be successful (i.e., result in personal ownership), you as a leader must enter the world of those you lead.
The challenge is that as a leader it can be too easy to focus on what you want and need or even expect. In other words it is much easier to try to get someone into your world and do what you need. That approach, unfortunately, will inevitably ensnare you in the trap of eliciting nothing more than compliance.
If you ask people to "buy in" with a focus on getting them into your world, you may gain followers, but you will not cultivate owners.
Interestingly enough, true "buy-in" in the form of personal ownership cannot be bought.
Ownership is a generative act that can't be coerced or manipulated into existence by anyone else no matter how charismatic they may be or how enticing the incentives.
It is ultimately a personal choice.
So the next time you are seeking "buy-in", consider doing whatever it takes to first discover and understand what matters most to those you lead. That discovery is essential to enroll those would want to go beyond following your lead, and rise to own the future with you.
Start with a great question and you may be surprised by the degree to which others will naturally generate a future similar to the one you have envisioned. They might even show you new dimensions of possibility and pathways you haven't imagined yet.
Your turn: What do you think it takes to become an influential leader?