There comes a time in every leader’s career when he or she is faced with seem-
ingly intractable obstacles. Not in terms of deficiencies in resources or compet-
itive pressures, but in terms of people in the organization. Often, it comes in the
form of a coalition of people who do not like or trust the leader. Sometimes this
lack of trust is due to lack of knowledge. Or it may be based on lack of faith;
they do not think the leader is up to the job. The way the leader handles the sit-
uation will determine success or failure as a leader. When facing such situa-
tions, the leader must defuse the forces against him or her and then bring peo-
ple together. Persuasion becomes the rule of the day.
Never Assume
But how do you persuade the people who have already made up their minds
against you? First, never assume anything. Often, such ad hoc coalitions against
the leader are formed by people who are not truly vested in the situation and
are fueled by rumor and innuendo. People do not declare their interests
because they are waiting to see how things play out. John Adams famously
reflected on the American Revolution that “We were about one third Tories,
and [one] third timid, and one third true blue.
That said, it is critical to win
people to the leader’s side. It is especially critical to overcome the arguments of
Persuasion is a leader’s stock in trade. Sometimes the odds are stacked
against the argument, and so more than persuasion is needed.
“People do not lack strength; they lack will.”
people who are diametrically opposed to the leader. Failure to do so will end a
leader’s effectiveness. The leader’s tenure will be forever marked by people
whose influence will turn into inactions, a refusal to perform the job, and even-
tually into acts of open rebellion against the leadership. Therefore, persuading
the unpersuaded is essential. There are some things you can do.
Do your homework. Disagreements arise for all sorts of reasons: personality
conflicts, organizational politics, and simple ignorance of the issues. The leader
must find out what people are against and why they are against it, especially
if the people are against your ideas. For example, if the leader is pushing for
a change, people may naturally push back because change brings discomfort.
If change brings pain, that is, people feel loss of control, influence, or security,
the issue is more serious. It is up to the leader to find out the root cause of
the discomfort.
Listen to the opposition. It is up to the leader to give people a voice.
Allowing them to explain their point of view as well as their resistance to the
idea is critical. Many leaders make the mistake of ignoring this step, thinking
they know the issues. Perhaps they do, but allowing people to voice their oppo-
sition is critical. It is not simply a matter of venting; it is an acknowledgment of
real opposition. Listening also involves asking questions and finding out why
people feel the way they do. That step is critical to understanding and then
building for the future.
Find common ground. What holds people together is their shared belief in
a common cause. Disagreements often arise among peer-based organizations
where there is no centralized hierarchy; examples include professional service
firms, universities, and even volunteer organizations. Disagreements can be
fatal; they can fester and cause ruination. So it is up to the leader to bring peo-
ple together to find a point or points of agreement. Often, this will get down to
the mission of the organization. For example, volunteers may coalesce around
the concept of service to the disadvantaged, or physicians may come together
on principles of patient care. Finding that common ground is essential. It can
take time to uncover and agree on, but if the organization is to survive, people
must agree.
Turn your opposition’s strength into his weakness. Sun-Tzu, the leg-
endary general of ancient China, was a master at observing his enemy and dis-

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