How to Avoid Fake Buy-In to Your Vision

Leaders know that buy-in is crucial to the success of a big vision. The chain of your vision is only as strong as its least invested link.

But not all buy-in is created equal. Some is fake. Some is real.

Everyone knows how to achieve buy-in: gather everyone involved into a meeting, discuss the vision, invite team members to volunteer for projects and tasks.

But the way you run this meeting will determine whether you get real or fake buy-in.

What produces fake and real buy-in

If the meeting merely creates an environment for cooperation you will get fake buy-in. In this case, the leader already knows where he wants to lead and how he wants to get there. The goal of the meeting is to transfer the leader’s vision to the team.

The opposite of cooperation is contribution. If you want real buy-in – the kind that motivates the people you lead to give their all – you must allow them to contribute to the vision. In this case, the leader knows where he wants to lead generally, but enlists those who he leads to specify the vision and determine the steps to get there. The purpose the meeting is not to communicate the vision, but to figure out the vision in the first place.

How the kind of buy-in you get affects the vision

The fake buy-in gained through cooperation dooms the vision. Excitement wanes as the ideas of the team members receive polite nods, with no intent of following through. Frustration grows and effectiveness plummets as people are asked to do things that don’t line up with their strengths. A top-to-bottom approach to buy-in will eventually bottom out.

On the other hand, buy-in by contribution makes visions succeed. You get a sharper vision when you consider the insights the team voices. You get more effective steps toward the vision as the team puts their strengths to work.

This takes a leader who is willing to have his (presumably gospel-centered, God-glorifying) agenda shaped by his team, without denying his role as the leader. Not an easy task. It also takes a self-motivated team that is discontent with just being told what to do.