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November 2007

When employees don’t have the faith to follow

You’ve got to be collaborative, and surround yourself with people that are smarter than you, or can or will do what you can’t or won’t. What will you do, or what do you do when your employees, some of whom may be highly qualified, stand up and say something is not going to work? Imagine that you have a terrific business idea. You’ve thought about it, considered the risk and wish to go forward. But as you begin to delegate responsibilities you find a lack of faith among your troops. They don’t think it can be done. What do you do?

This is a defining moment. It’s a challenge that comes to everyone who aspires to greater success. What do you do?

Let’s consider our good man Bill. He’s proven himself as a candidate for significant success because he’s not only developed the good habits and the work ethic that accompanies them, but he’s also learned to take calculated risks. He enters into a new venture with due caution and knows he can pull out before it’s too late. So he brings a good idea to his trusted staff and begins to lay out the plan for them.

As the plan unfolds, he finds that his people are objecting on one point or another. He looks at them with surprise. Can’t they see what he’s saying? Can’t they see that if the team accomplishes his plan, the company would be stronger in the marketplace?

Still they object. He can’t detect the reasons. Something’s amiss and he can’t figure it out. No matter how he explains, though he knows they’ll do it if pushed, he senses their lack of appreciation for the idea. What does Bill do? He probes for the reasons his people hesitate.

“Alright,” says Bill, “If you don’t think this will work, tell me why.”

Experience has taught Bill not to push people by force. He knows that if he lords it over them against their beliefs, they’ll perform poorly and probably ruin the opportunity. He knows if they don’t “buy in” and take ownership, they won’t be enthusiastic and will not likely accept the responsibilities that will come with the new direction. His wisdom makes him reluctant to proceed without full commitment.

But at this point, he sees that no one has objected with a solid reason; so he tries to draw out any reticent feelings. “Tell me why it won’t work.”

If they can’t explain why in clear, convincing terms, he’ll give the command to proceed. If they can, perhaps they saved him from making a mistake. If they are convincing, Bill can only appreciate their candor and devotion.

You don’t want to be autocratic. You want to encourage input, as Bill is doing. He has surrounded himself with people who add value. If they’re stuck, he’s stuck. So he’s looking to find out why before proceeding with his idea. He knows the value of consensus.

However, there is one more thing to consider in this kind of internal court. Some employees can increase a risk because they don’t believe your plan can be accomplished. We suspect that our hero Bill would spot such a person through day-to-day contact. If such an employee were to rise to the surface during this hypothetical discussion, Bill would discern his weakness in belief. He knows he cannot delegate to a person who truly believes it can’t be done. His lack of belief would undermine his performance and erode his creativity. He would be better off to set such an employee on another task or let them go. Bill knows he can’t have a sour apple in the barrel.

Our point is that every situation is different, but some risks are grave enough that having non-believers in the pack is a crippling factor. Good people are sometimes hard to come by. Bill has learned that, if he doesn’t have good people on board, some risks aren’t worth taking.

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Ron Sturgeon is past owner of AAA Small Car World. In 1999, he sold his six Texas locations, with 140 employees, to Greenleaf. In 2001, he founded North Texas Insurance Auction, which he sold to Copart in 2002. In 2002, his book “Salvaging Millions” was published to help small business owners achieve significant success, and was recently reprinted. In June 2003, he joined the new ownership and management team of GreenLeaf. He also manages his real estate holdings and investments. You can learn more about him at He can be reached at 5940 Eden, Haltom City, TX 76117, or 817-834-3625 ext 6#.