Trying to Get Your Employees to Do What You Want?

I was working with a CEO named Jeff the other day who was frustrated with one of his employees.

This employee—Paul, the leader of an important business unit—wasn’t doing what Jeff would ask of him.

This in turn was putting a wrench in the works of the business, and allowing the competition to creep in.

Jeff didn’t want to have to tell Paul what to do. You know what happens when you do that—valuable employees feel undermined and micromanaged. Nobody wins.

Jeff was stuck—he didn’t want to keep beating his head against the wall, and he’s not alone—this challenge plagues many of the executives I work with.

My client was essentially asking me, “How do I make Paul do what I think he should do?”
The answer is one of the key secrets to being a good leader—and it may be counterintuitive.

When an employee is out of sync, stop your own thought process and try to determine where he is right now. For a moment, completely let go of where you want him to be, essentially letting go of any agenda you may have.

So I asked Jeff, “What do you think is REALLY driving Paul to do what he’s currently doing?”
My client sat back in his chair, thought about it for a minute, and then answered me with a plausible, but totally made-up answer.
Because the truth was that Jeff really didn’t know.

So far, my client had tried offering this leader more logic, and to “coach” him into doing things “right.”
You know what that’s like—trying to guide another person through logical steps that should lead to obvious conclusions (aka yours).
The problem is that this doesn’t work.

You can’t lead anyone if you don’t know where they are starting from.

If you’re having trouble leading someone, consider that your main challenge may be that you don’t know where they are right now. What are their values? What are their strengths? What are they struggling with currently? What’s holding them back?

Knowing the answer to these questions—and many more—is a critical component of leadership.

Figuring this out in each situation is tough. I often work with leaders on the nuances of each situation. But you can improve your conversations (and get your employees to do what you want more often) by taking these first few steps:


You are going to need them to open up in this process, so the first step is to help them feel safe enough to open up to you. Often this means revealing your growth edges to show them that it’s ok to still be learning and growing.


This is key! People can feel when you have an agenda to meet, and when that’s present they are going to protect and defend. Put your agenda aside—if only for this conversation—and see what opens up.


Curiosity is what emerges when you are completely focused on the other person. You realize that they have thoughts and feelings that may be different than yours and you can start to ask questions that come to you naturally. Just like someone can feel it when you have an agenda, they can also feel your genuine curiosity. This enhances the sense of safety, and helps you get to what’s really going on. Activate your curiosity and see what emerges.


Final thoughts:
This is obviously not meant to be used as a manipulative technique to get what you want, but rather an honest inquiry into the hearts and minds of your employees to see where they are—and from there, you can truly lead them.

Of course, as a leader you’re not going to be able to let go of your agenda forever. You have goals to hit, and milestones to reach, but this is the most powerful way to get the most from your team.

It’s possible, when you get down to what’s really going on with them, that an incompatibility might be present between your employee’s work and the needs of the business, which of course would be good to know. But 9 times out of 10, you’ll realize they are struggling with an issue where you can help them get back on track, and producing at the highest levels for the organization.

So remember, your best route to convincing your employees to do what you want isn’t about convincing at all. It’s about connecting to where they are right now so you can effectively lead them.

Now it’s your turn: What practices have you found most effective when leading others?

I’d love to hear from you. Please shoot me an email, and let me know your thoughts!