You want them to change how they work. The new direction makes total sense, so surely everyone will be excited by it.

You buy the latest tools. You hired experts to help them learn new ways of working. You send the team off on courses. You even give them a funky new workspace.

Despite everything you give them, it feels like improvement is at a standstill. Why isn’t the team taking advantage of everything you’re doing for them? Don’t they appreciate everything you’ve done?

It might seem leadership is a paradox when you find yourself in these positions. You’re not supposed to be directive, then how do you get them to improve? How do you balance providing strong leadership with taking action?

Help them choose

I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it. — Morpheus, The Matrix (movie)

When companies want to change, they often build doors and tell their people to walk through them. While the people might go through the door, the room is full of resistance, skepticism, and doubts.

I have seen many companies decide they’re going Agile and then tell their people to go do it. While the direction might have some initial success it often hits a low ceiling.

Leaders create the conditions for choice

As a leader, the ideal scenario is to let the teams decide what doors they are going to build and walk through. I get you may not have this option.

When you tell them to walk through the door, it will be out of obligation to you. In obligation, they’re only going to do enough to satisfy the direction. They will also blame you for problems given you made them pursue the next management fad.

In the face of change, people need leadership so they can choose to want to walk through the door. It’s about creating the conditions so they want to walk through the door.

  • Talk to them about how they feel about this new direction
  • Share why you want them to go in this direction? (Note: If you don’t feel uncomfortable answering this, it may not be the real “Why?”)
  • Ask them what support from you looks like
  • Give them the vision which connects with their hearts
  • Let them be involved with how you’re going to do it

There are lots of ways you can help them choose to bring their whole selves through the door. Whatever you do is great. Just don’t obligate them to be there, or you run the risk of everything you worked towards being unravelled.