Solution Saturday: Tired of Beating a Dead Horse

Dear Dan,

I am frequently frustrated with poor communication and lack of follow up in communication that I initiate with leaders and team members.

I offer solutions and offer an open invitation to assist. This usually falls on deaf ears or at least no one follows up to let me know they are considering solutions.

I feel like I’m constantly beating a dead horse.

How do I get others to effect change when I’m not the person in the position to make the change, without sounding like I am complaining.

I can’t leave my job.

Beating

Dear Beating,

Congratulations for your passion to effect change. All leaders change things. If things aren’t changing, you aren’t leading.

I notice that you don’t have the authority to make changes, but you would like to influence others. This is the heart of leadership. The idea that authority to make decisions magically makes people leaders is offensive.

Relying on authority means you’ve already lost the leadership challenge. Authority is important, but if that’s the heart of your leadership, coercion and compliance are the best you can expect. Teams end up disengaged and passionless.

The fact that you don’t have authority is your opportunity to explore the potential and skills of influence. When it comes to influence, ‘telling’ isn’t enough. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s think about assumptions.

Suggestions or commands:

Leaders feel reluctant to seek input when suggestions are commands. In other words, if you make a suggestion and expect others to always take action on it, your suggestions are commands.

If you are offering unsolicited solutions, let them go when you give them. Don’t create obligations. Leaders receive lots of suggestions. They can’t act on all of them.

You might say, “Here’s a thought that might be helpful. Don’t feel any obligation to get back to me. It’s just for what it’s worth.”

Implied pressure creates resistance in others and weakens your influence. To put it another way, leaders put up walls when they feel pressured.

My first suggestion is to be sure that any solutions you suggest are free from subtle obligations.

Resentment:

You may feel resentment toward those who don’t follow up in ways that you expect. Rest assured that others feel it. Resentment toward someone lowers your influence with them. It’s time to let that go, if you feel it.

Draw a line in the sand and start fresh. Forget about all the disappointment. Focus on the type of person you would like to be. Resentment molds us into attitudes and behaviors that don’t serve us well.

Resentment allows us to excuse  attitudes and behaviors we would normally reject as offensive.

Assistance:

You offer assistance but people aren’t taking you up on it. They don’t want your assistance. Make this a point of reflection. Is it lack of alignment or skill? Could it be abrasiveness?

Perhaps you’re pushing your own agenda. I’m not sure. Mull this over. Discuss it with an outsider, not family and friends.

How might you become a go-to person? One way is to help others get where they want to go, not where you want them to go. This is a shift all successful leaders come to understand.

Leadership is about helping people get where they want to go. If company goals don’t align with personal goals, the person doesn’t belong with the organization.

You might consider exploring where the leaders want to go. Assume that you don’t know, even if you think you do. Ask open questions. Adopt a helper’s approach. If there has been any hint of resentment from you, it will take some time for people to open up.

Initiative:

Make things better for others. You might make small improvements without asking permission. Just do them.

Beware of significant disruptions or violating policy.

Be helpful in surprising open handed ways.

Service:

I’ve seen people make suggestions and remain passive. They expect others to do things, while they don’t. Offer suggestions that make life easier for others, even if they might inconvenience you.

Service may include disadvantaging yourself for the advantage of others.

Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take, may be useful.

Stop:

Stop doing what isn’t working. You’re in this for the long haul. Don’t let impatience be the reason you end up sabotaging your own success.

Make a list of everything you’re currently doing to get what you want. Stop doing them. The way you’re offering solutions, for example, isn’t working. Modify an old approach or find some new ones.

You might need to seek suggestions from outsiders. Go to someone you respect – not family or friends – tell them what you’d like to achieve, explain what you’ve tried, generate a list of new options.

Complaining:

Your concern about seeming like you are complaining is well founded. First, don’t demonize the present or past in your attempts to make change. When you demonize something that currently exists, you offend the ones who created or sustain it. It’s difficult to offend and influence at the same time, at least in positive ways.

Gratitude and honor are opposite to complaining. How might you show gratitude everyday? How might you honor the people around you?

Seek to make things better while being thankful for progress that’s been made.

Conclusion:

I’ve been dirct and tough on you. I offer these suggestions with kind intentions. Try something new, even if it feels awkward. Take what is useful. Reject the rest.

There is no easy path to leadership. It’s a challenge. You might try reading, The Leadership Challenge, by Kouzes and Posner.

You have my best,

Dan

What suggestions do you have for Beating?

*I relax my 300 word limit on Solution Saturday.