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“How Persuadable Should a Leader Be?”

Sitting at a dinner with the leadership team of a client recently, one team member said about the CEO, who was sitting just a few seats down, “It can be really tough to get her to change her mind.”

This issue arises often and I hear from leaders themselves and people who report to them. Most leaders want to believe they are open to ideas that are new, different from their own, or otherwise make them uncomfortable. But the reality is that business leaders – like most people – have strong beliefs and, no, do not readily or happily adapt new perspectives.

I personally have been on both sides of this dynamic and am sympathetic to both. It makes me think of recent experiences working on political issues in the town where I live near San Francisco. To get your way, which happens sometimes but not all the time, here are some points I keep in mind:

  1. Know the issues cold – there’s no substitute for being smart and thoughtful
  2. Find your tribe – other people believe what you believe; you’ve got to find them
  3. Respect those who aren’t with you yet – it’s easy to get frustrated and even develop contempt for others who don’t embrace your ideas; but they have their reasons, and an air of superiority won’t get you anywhere
  4. Stay positive – your emotions will either attract or repel people
  5. Hang in there – the bigger the change, the longer it might take

For leaders who ask me about this, I say: don’t lower the bar, but don’t close the door. Build it up before you tear it down. Be honest but also encouraging: ask questions, say what intrigues you, say what concerns you, and above all express gratitude for courage and caring it took for someone to step forward.

As for the person at dinner, she said: “And I get it. I’m glad she’s clear about what she thinks. I know I have to come with my best game.”