Creating better Buy-In is not Leadership. It’s Salesmanship.

Here’s a contrarian view: 

  • Creating buy-in is the skill of influencing, selling, salesmanship, and political manoeuvring = Salesmanship/Sales Performance.
  • Creating the environment for success where people bring their best, thrive, and actually want to work; enabling people performance, ownership = Leadership/Leader Performance.

Leaders are obsessed with creating buy-in. Maybe this is because leaders are told that what it means to be a leader is to “know the way, show the way”, influence and get people on your bus to achieve your strategy. As a leader, I too “bought in” to this idea, in fact I also “sold” this idea. However, as we have experimented our way to help leaders exponentially grow and create performance, now I see the world works entirely differently. 

Maybe creating buy-in has been working against us all along. It seems like an anti-pattern, ineffective and counterproductive. It’s the antithesis of creating an environment where everyone owns it, takes their responsibility to create success and perform because people have to be “sold”, convinced, perhaps coerced. Buy-in may be a critical sales skill, but buy-in as your default mode of leadership is not leadership, it’s salesmanship. 

What if instead of obsessing over buy-in, we obsessed over creating performance. Enabling performance by leading in a way that people take ownership of their performance and growth. Imagine the organizational success, performance, results, if leadership performance was measured by creating the environment for success where people can thrive and bring their best. Imagine people engaged more than the 14-30% they are now. Imagine people pulling in the same direction, aligned, owning it, innovating, being purposeful. 

But before we get too far, reality check. The world is teaching old school leadership. MBA’s are being taught the steps to create better buy-in. Swaying, selling, manipulating is an actual measure of leadership success. 

Leaders obsessed with creating buy-in, tie their value to “knowing the right way, and showing the way (via creating buy-in)” as if the workforce is idiotic, incapable, a gullible first time buyer, or just needs to be sold harder to be more productive at work. When we’re doing this, we’re treating leadership like a sales funnel to get people onboard. 

Organizations continue to reward salesmanship in place of leadership. People move up by politicking, protectionism, inherent bureaucracy, “selling” themselves. Additionally, in a world where leaders know best and create buy-in to “their way”, we limit innovation and solutions as they can only come from leaders. This makes me think we’re doomed because so much research has proven that innovation comes from the fringe, incredibly rarely from the top. In the world we live in, innovation needs to come from everywhere in order for a company to perform. However we’re narrowing the view in creating buy-in, ensuring to funnel ideas down our own path, eliminating the slightest possibility of innovation. 

Solution: Lead rather than sell. Make it meaningful, not political manoeuvring, swaying. Inspire. Enable a sense of ownership: shared psychological ownership, co-created ownership.

Having vision is leadership, being in it with the team, being able to be wrong, remembering that you’re human and organizations are collections of humans. Jumping in to help, succeeding and failing together. Being bold and visionary, and inviting to be questioned, challenged. Being open to take an alternative approach, to pull in opposing and diverse ideas – expanding your own thinking. Growing yourself. Facilitating action, momentum, results, creating space for mistakes and growth. 

Pro-tips: 

  • Create diversity of thought and find better options rather than a funnel to your own ideas. 
  • Create a safe space for challenging, for conversations, for action not just talk, and for experimentation. 
  • Less buzz words, more realness. 
  • Less framing the conversation, more giving context and ensuring open conversation. 
  • Less knowing the way, more finding the way. 
  • Less telling people, more growing people. 
  • Less transaction (sell/buy), more relationship (co-create/grow) 
  • Less creating buy-in, more facilitating shared psychological ownership

Summary: 

The leadership mantra of creating buy-in to one’s “way” is overused and abused. Buy-in is the currently morally acceptable leadership coercion method. It causes people to not think, not innovate, not take ownership, and ensures a passive zombie-like “simply surviving” work experience. People don’t bring their best, don’t perform, and suffer. It’s un-human.

Modern leadership has simultaneously a compelling vision and malleability, grounded in purpose, embracing polarity and choice. It doesn’t need to “create buy-in / sell the way forward” because it leverages the power of co-created psychological ownership, diversity in people & ideas, combined with small actions to move continuously and exponentially forward for active thriving not just passive surviving.

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