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Business pivots: Staying true to your (new) vision when dealing with resistance

5 min read


So you’ve decided to take your business in a new, more exciting and more profitable direction. At least, that’s how you see it.

Unfortunately, the other people who put their heart and soul into the old direction aren’t nearly as convinced. They don’t want to let go of all the work they’ve already put in and they’re skeptical that the same thing won’t happen again. So what do you do?

Leading is as much about inspiring the imagination and actions of their followers as it is about getting the direction and strategy right. To re-energize your team and other stakeholders, you must hook their aspirations to your new vision. If you can figure out how your new vision fulfills their needs, you help to make it their vision too.

When people at every level feel they are part of creating the vision, their ownership and commitment to execution grows exponentially. Then, progress comes not from imposing your will as a leader, but from a new, collective enthusiasm toward achieving a shared vision.

Here are a few tools you can use to help motivate your team in a new direction:

1. Acknowledge the negative, then shift to the positive

Of course, nothing ever works out exactly as planned. And when this happens, it is natural for your team to feel disappointed and disheartened.

The first step to disrupting this negative downward spiral is acknowledging the negative: Yes, many hours and blood, sweat and tears were spent on a now-defunct plan. Yes, starting over is painful and there’s no guarantee that the new direction will work.

Then, let them know that in this disheartened state, they are probably suffering from “opportunity blindness.” If they look more closely, there has to be gold they can mine. Make scanning for the positive an intellectually stimulating exercise. Then, when they find the gold (they will inevitably find the gold) take concrete steps together toward realizing the benefit. And so begins a virtuous upward spiral aimed at productive and collaborative action.

2. Ask: What do you need? What do you want?

By asking those you lead what they want and what they need, you can begin to find ways to synthesize disparate points of view of what the new vision asks of them. This entails what I call “leading by listening.” Leading by listening works best in situations of change — like business pivots — when it seems like there are conflicting goals and desires within the organization. It warrants keen inquiry skills, including the ability to conduct probing interviews, gather diverse perspectives, and see patterns and themes in people’s expressed desires.

When this leadership style works, the people you lead will feel grateful and respected. Their voices count. Then, when you speak up, inviting them to see what the future could be from their point of view, they feel empowered to make it happen. They feel strong ownership and are ready to do whatever it takes to achieve their vision.

3. Say it with substance, sizzle and soul

As the leader, your vision speech is your rallying cry. It better be inspirational — especially if it calls for a change of direction.

There are three assets you must leverage when you seek to inspire: substance, sizzle and soul. Each is important and distinct enough to call out as a separate element, but in reality, they overlap and reinforce each other.

Substance is the content of what you say. It is the intelligence quotient of your message. Your substance shows that you are engaged with your talking points — you have done your homework. Use this credibility as an asset to move your team forward.

Sizzle is the color and detail. It is the emotional quotient, the true, heartfelt expression of the feelings — your feelings — about your message. Saying it with sizzle is about using your words and your voice to evoke emotion in your listeners. It is the sizzle of your words that makes them stick.

Soul refers to the why — why the message is so important to your listeners, your mission and you. Think of it as your meaning quotient. Most leaders shortchange soul, but when you’re looking to inspire, soul is the most important element. Saying it with soul is a matter of revealing and demonstrating who you are — your values and beliefs, your character, your skin in the game. Remember, people follow people, not just great ideas.

Kathryn D. Cramer, PhD, is an Emmy winner, business consultant, psychologist, and author who has written nine books, including the best-selling “Change the Way You See Everything.” She created and has dedicated her life to asset-based thinking (ABT), a way of looking at the world that helps leaders, influencers, and their teams make small shifts in thinking to produce extraordinary impact. Her latest book, “Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say & Do” (Jossey-Bass, 2014), shows leaders how to increase their effectiveness through her mindset-management process. Follow her on Twitter @drkathycramer and connect on Facebook.