How a Leader Moves from Idea to Implementation

My entire family loves the musical “Hamilton” and knows the lyrics inside out.  And as often happens (do your family or friends do this, too?) a few phrases stick in our collective memory and are repeated at any semi-relevant opportunity.  

So Hamilton’s declaration, “I have to get my plan through Congress,” is quoted whenever anyone embarks on an effort to convince someone else to agree to a proposal.

But I’ve noticed that, like Hamilton, many people have more trouble with the getting-other-people-to-buy-in part than they do with deciding on the plan.

This shows up as in my world as:

  • A  super-capable newsletter subscriber who tells me their greatest leadership challenge is managing upwards.
  • A founder who dreads interacting with their Board of Directors because the members may “interfere.”
  • And I remember my own moments of frustration as a project team leader:  “Why do I have to convince all these people?  Why can’t we just go ahead and do it?”

This frustration is completely understandable if you consider how we’ve been schooled and rewarded as experts:  focus on the task, work independently, and always be the one to solve the problem thoroughly and completely.  Plus, we’re often super attached to our data or plan and fear someone else will mess it up if they get involved.

And then at some point, the rules change.

They change when our scope and aspirations grow bigger than the work we can do with our own hands and mind, and when we’re also expected to harness the knowledge and work of others to serve a larger goal.

In other words, the rules change when we are expected to be leaders.

One of the key differences between an expert and leader is how a leader gets things done. In the past, you might put your head down and work out a plan.  You share the info with others when you’re expected to do so, and not before or outside of these required venues.  It’s your plan, darn it!

As a leader, you may still have the expert capability to create a fully fleshed out plan.  But you move from idea to implementation differently, especially in when and how you involve others. 

In following posts, I’ll explore how to make this important shift from the individual contributor mindset to being able to actually get our plan through our own version of Congress  – aka stakeholder management, or managing up.

The first step is to notice your own tendencies when developing a plan that will require buy in from others.  Below are three behaviors that show up along a continuum.  

What best describes how you work now?

Doing the work yourself  <—> Getting input from others

For many of us the default is to just put our head down and do the work.  It’s comfortable and we’re good at it.  An alternative mindset is that we plan the seed of an idea but others need to water it, too .

Sharing once it’s perfect  <—> Sharing early versions

I’ve always had trouble sharing a plan that was still in the works.  It felt – risky.   I’m learning that sharing earlier saves time by less rework later and helps others feel involved.

Spending time working on your plan <—> spending time talking about your plan

I notice we often dismiss the time spent discussing our plan with others as extra work and superfluous, but it turns out it may be just as important as time spent on the plan itself.

Over the next few weeks, pay attention to how these different mindsets show up for you.  I’d love to hear your observations and questions for the next installment; just reply to this email.

Although Hamilton did eventually get his plan through Congress, I don’t think he’s a shining  example of stakeholder management. We can do better. Tune in for the next act when we talk more about those stakeholders.

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