Maybe the toughest thing in management to do is persuade others to go along with you when you have no authority over them. I once heard Jim Collins, the leadership expert and author of Good to Great (Social Sector), analogize this situation as the equivalent of Lyndon Johnson leading in the Senate.

As Senate Majority Leader in the Fifties, Johnson was able to drive through legislation through the power of his persuasion. He was a good talker, but he was also a great listener. And as Johnson’s biographers Robert Dallek and Robert Caro point out, Johnson was able to read others. That is, he got to know what makes them tick and what was close to their hearts. This way he could pitch his legislation toward what appealed to their interests.

We as leaders in the corporate sector must do the very same. Say you are challenged to implement an initiative across multiple functions. What will you do?

One, do your homework. Find out what your colleagues in different functions think about the initiative. Likely they will oppose it for any number of reasons that we can label the “don’ts.” As in “Don’t like it. Don’t want to change. Don’t want more work.”

Two, make your case. Demonstrate how the initiative will make things better in the long run. Acknowledge short term pain for longer-term gain. Argue the business case.

Three, listen, listen, listen. Pay attention to what your colleagues are telling you. Let them digest the change but listen to how you can adjust the initiative to meet their specific requirements.

Four, push hard. If this initiative is important and if senior management is counting on you to drive it through, and then keep on it.

Five, be there to follow up. This is critical. Make it known up front that you will be available to help implement the initiative. You, or your team, will help the team get the new initiative up and running.

Driving things across the enterprise is never easy, but you can do it if you are willing to listen, learn and act on what you know.

First posted on on 12.09.10