Ultimately, leadership is an engagement sport. You cannot lead by remote control. As John le Carre wrote: ‘A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world’. This is as true of leaders as it is of spies. You need to create a team and a network of people who have faith in your story. Clearly, your top team needs to buy in. If they do not buy in, they need to move on. A team that is playing against itself is unlikely to succeed.
Less obviously, you need to engage a specific network of individuals across your organisation. You need to get the informal grapevine of the organisation working for you. Relying on broadband media to get your message across is not enough. Newsletters tend to have the style and credibility of Pravda in the days of the Soviet Union. You need to get up close and personal with the owners of the grapevine.
Some of this will happen in the natural, semi-random process of meeting different people in different situations. In practice, there are a few individuals who are likely to carry informal influence out of all proportion to their formal position in the organisation. They might run a social club. They might be the crusty old-timer who has seen it all many times before and has watched CEOs come and go with regularity. These people can spread poison, but they can also spread hope. Because they are outside the formal hierarchy they are trusted, and because they have wide networks they are influential. These are the people who feed the grapevine – if they say the new vision makes sense to them, people listen.
One Chief Executive Officer reviewed the first three years of his tenure and estimated that more than half of his time was spent on communicating his future perfect idea. People do not get your message easily. If you have spent six months developing and refining your idea, do not expect anyone else to really understand it in a 45-minutes presentation. You have to be persistent and reactive about how you communicate it.
From the book: “How To Lead” by Jo Owen