Three ways to invite buy-in

People have to weigh in to buy in (as the saying goes).

The trouble comes when people don’t know what kind of weighing in they are doing. Do they have a vote? A veto? If you invite their input, be clear who owns the decision.

We moved last summer. We involved our kids in the search for our new home. We asked what would matter most to them and scoured Zillow together. There are four of them and two of us, and they knew: this isn’t a vote. We aren’t making an offer on a house because there’s a trampoline:)

There are three ways to weigh in

  • A voice: I want your input. Ultimately, the decision is mine.
  • A vote: You get a say. This is a decision we are making collectively.
  • A veto: This won’t move forward without your ‘yes.’

When people think they have a vote, but don’t, they end up surprised and disappointed. Ultimately, you lose trust.

I love this quote from the former head of the EPA. The context is interesting (in Leadership Without Easy Answers), but not critical for appreciating the quote.

“The people of Tacoma are not being asked to make the decision; they are being asked for their informed opinion. They know that the right to be heard is not the same thing as the right to be heeded. The final decision is mine.”

William Ruckelshaus

Too often, I have treated decisions (i.e. hiring) like a team vote. I would have been better off inviting the group’s voice, and giving a select one or two a veto.

There is a time for voting. Trusted groups should often be given a veto. For everybody else, be brave enough to invite their voice in your decision. Don’t hand out your authority in the hope there will be massive consensus.

If someone asks you to weigh in, you might consider asking what type of weighing in their asking for.

  • If you vote, remember you’re being asked to support a group decision, even if it isn’t yours.
  • If you’re given veto power, you should use it judiciously. 
  • If you have a voice, you also have ears. Two of them. One mouth. Use them accordingly.

Leaders, it’s our job to listen well and clarify courageously.

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