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Before You Execute, Consider This.


Executional leadership is defined as “having a strategic mindset and the leadership skills to perform a function, implement a process or execute a project.” Execution leadership focuses on the skill set and fundamental steps to take you and your team from A to B. This is helpful but what if your team or colleague is not mentally in the space to accept a radically different direction for the team? In that case, strategizing how to get from A to B is futile.


My experience creating teams and developing buy-in for change requires two things before execution.


  1. Awareness: If you can assume everyone is interested in success and moving towards progress why do we encounter pushback? It is because we have not considered the other’s perspective, their challenges, and the lens through which they see the change. As the leader, we are so focused on the result that we miss the obstacles along the way, the very obstacles that consume our colleague’s time. You are presenting an idea, the “why” in the conversation although your team is only able to see the “how”. How it will not work, how it will add work, and how they don’t have the resources for success. The natural reaction at this time is to shut down the entire idea. We get so paralyzed with the “how” that we can’t see the “what/ why”, subsequently, the entire idea is dead.


Take a step back and slow down.

Take a moment to solidify why this is important, what impact the change may have and how unity around the concept can create partnership and energy.



  1. Break-it-down: This separation of the “why“ and the “how” allows for buy-in, excitement, and creativity. These are two different discussions and require their individual time. Most people unconsciously lump them together and run the other way since the process of making change is daunting. It is your job to separate these two concepts and introduce them individually.


Start the conversation by finding a common area of agreement and vision. Keep adjusting this starting point until everyone is leaning in and wanting more. Most people facing change will have a very hard time not introducing “how” this idea won’t work. Keep bringing them back to the “why” and resist the urge to problem-solve. Sometimes it is helpful to say, “pretend we had all of the resources in the world, all the people, all the money, all the time… how would you approach this situation?”



This shifts the thinking from scarcity to creativity.


Once you have established a starting point with a clear vision of success, now begin to entertain ideas by asking what barriers this idea will encounter. Ask a lot of questions without judgment or debate, your goal is to capture the fears, obstacles, and perceived limitations.


Remember, you have already shifted to positive energy, given you have previously established excitement and desire, your team is invested in how they can make this work as opposed to why it can’t. That in itself is a dramatically different starting point.


Time and time again, I have seen great ideas stopped in their tracks because of perceived barriers to success. The sense of “execution overwhelm” trumps any great idea. As a leader it is your job to ask the questions, become aware of each team member’s perspective and limitations, and break down the process into manageable pieces.


Here is an example. In an effort to improve efficiency and communication, you propose partnering the executives with their own assistants. You believe this consistent relationship will improve the workflow and decrease turnover. As you present this idea, the team quickly shuts you down because they have a staff shortage and no budget to support three new hires. Do you see how they skipped right over the benefits and dug their heels into all the reasons it would not work?


Bring them back to the “why”.

  • Can we agree that high turnover impacts morale and costs a lot of money in recruiting and training? (yes)

  • Do you think that strong 1:1 relationships would improve throughput and consistency of work? (yes)

  • Could investing in the culture of our team build a stronger product and improved commitment? (yes)

Let this idea sit, and let people brainstorm about the possibilities of teams and partnering together. This will create excitement and drive which lessens the negativity.


Next: Ask what is the fear around this proposal and how can we creatively tackle barriers. Can we leverage other employees? Can we capitalize on the saved recruiting and training costs? Can we start slowly and add as we go?


Really listen to people’s fears and hesitations. Many times the leader will have to circle back to the original agreed-upon purpose. A work process as described takes time for the team to digest, move slowly, and resist the urge to tell them what to do.


Create trust and flexibility with timelines and open dialogue. If people feel heard and supported they will try just about anything.



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