When ‘because I said so’ isn’t enough

It’s a phrase we’ve all heard in our lifetime, likely from a parent or grandparent. “Because I said so,” may serve as an adequate explanation in a parent/child dynamic, but it rarely suffices in the work place.

As a CEO, implementing an idea can be a challenge if you’re the only one who believes in the vision. Moreover, hearing your team’s objection could make your plan or product even better. But as a leader who needs to guide your team into the future, I can guarantee there will be a time when you have to push your team when they disagree with you.

What to do?

Provide your reasons
Most of us want to influence, not dictate. Even though it takes time, I find it easier in the long run to explain my rationale for a decision. As a nonprofit leader, I am inspired to make change, create impact and make a difference. I don’t want to be the Zoo of yesterday. I want to be the Zoo of tomorrow.

Thus, when I hear “we’ve always done it this way,” I point out that we’re here to make change for the better. In your business, perhaps your reasons are based on customer data and trends that aren’t available to all participating parties. Share the trends.

Or perhaps you are shifting direction due to a new strategic plan or board direction. Explain why that matters. Even if your team doesn’t agree with your plan, they at least have a sense it is based on reality and don’t assume the boss is crazy.

Stick with the facts
I find when I introduce a new plan, I often hear about obstacles or urban legends (zoo myths, as we say). Ask your team to throw away the fictitious tales and concentrate on the facts. For example, when I tried to provide blind animals a permanent home at our Zoo, I initially encountered resistance.

The comments ranged from “the public won’t like it” to “we don’t know how to care for injured animals.” Once I parsed through the reasons why we couldn’t, I realized we probably didn’t have the right skill set, so we acquired people with those skills. I also sensed there was fear of failure. I remained supportive. By working with the team’s concerns, I could adjust and improve our chances of success.

Create an atmosphere of trust to make mistakes
No team leader enjoys outright conflict, but I recognize it can improve a plan. To survive a conflict, there needs to be trust between team members. One way to start building trust is to engage in mock conflicts with script-playing.

It teaches an ability to listen to one another in more effective ways, which allows resolving differences more quickly. Be patient. Your team will have good ideas, but they may not have your experience or reasoning skills. By listening to their ideas, or discontent, you give them a freedom to brainstorm in the future.

Be clear about how to execute
If you’ve ever heard, “good idea, but it will never work,” your team may be disagreeing with you because they simply can’t see how to move a plan from A to Z. While I don’t like to micromanage, walking the team through the logistics in the early stages may be worth its weight in gold in the long run.

I like to create what I call Footprints of Success to make complex processes understandable.  For example, a large event can be broken down into easier stages that can be duplicated again for another group; or a conservation action can be repeated for subsequent species. I’ve also started to assign the task to those on my team who appear to be “buying in”, regardless of their title.

Don’t gloat your success
If your idea has proven to be successful, hopefully your team has learned how to better visualize and execute a successful outcome. Your team is more likely to trust your vision next time, especially if you allow them to come to that conclusion on their own.

As a wise man once said, “you’ll make only some of the people happy some of the time,” and as a leader you should emotionally be prepared to make decisions that won’t make all of your folks happy all of the time.

Remember to be patient with your team and take one step at a time. With repeated success, they’ll learn to follow, and more importantly, you may learn a few things along the way, too.

Tanya Peterson is president and executive director at the San Francisco Zoo.