How to Create a Personal Connection with your Stakeholders

Anyone who has tried to cook a soufflé knows it involves a delicate, complex configuration of skill and luck: the right ingredients, environment, and timing are crucial. The same can be said of managing corporate change, especially when you consider that only 25% of such programs succeed. The reason most change initiatives fail is not because an organization’s leaders lack talent or intellect.

Instead, the reason many corporate change programs collapse stems from the failure of their leaders to establish a personal connection with their stakeholders. Those on a board of directors might be dedicated professionals, but unless they can relate on a personal level to their stakeholders, any change they seek to promote will face resistance. This is quite simply because, rather than being dictated to, people like to be the “chef”— to continue the analogy – of their own change recipe.

How different leadership styles foster personal connections

    Fostering a personal connection with your stakeholders – and this includes anyone who has a vested interest in what you are doing such as your followers, peers, partners, and bosses – is the central difference between transactional and transformational styles of leadership. While most in the C-suite apply a mix of the two approaches, it’s important to understand how these two leadership styles differ on this point.

  • Transactional leaders rely on a conventional approach of conferring orders, then rewarding or correcting their followers for achieving or not reaching certain goals. Such executives hold tightly to the reins of power with the focus squarely on the outcome. Failure to obtain a specific outcome often spells the end of the change management endeavor.
  • Transformational leaders, in contrast, work to gain the trust and confidence of their stakeholders and unite them around a common vision. They coach and mentor with a view to developing their stakeholders’ greatest potential so that the latter, in turn, can contribute fully to the organization. Transformational leaders willingly share power – less “l’état c’est moi” and more “l’esprit de corps.” Their focus lies on the process and how people interact toward a common goal. Failure to reach an objective doesn’t mean the change initiative is dead in the water. A collapsed soufflé might simply prefigure a delectable dip.

In short, whereas transactional leaders focus on the “end,” transformational leaders exert their energies on the “means.” In their groundbreaking research, Alice Eagly and Linda Lorene Carli substantiated that transformational leadership more closely suited modern industry due to its focus on innovative outcomes through open collaboration and knowledge growth. Exerting a transformational style of leadership, in a nutshell, increases the chances your change initiative will thrive.

Exerting a transformational style of leadership, in a nutshell, increases the chances your change initiative will thrive.​

3 Essential ingredients to build a personal connection with your stakeholders

If establishing a personal connection is the magic sauce for successful corporate change, how then do we deconstruct the ingredients? How do you, as a transformational leader, make a connection with your stakeholders? What does it look like? How do you know when you’ve succeeded? What’s the litmus test?

A system of shared values is the first ingredient. You must convince your stakeholders that change is not only needed, but is crucial for company survival. They must view themselves as integral to the very change you seek to promote. By creating a system of shared values, you forge a loyal base even among stakeholders with strikingly different motives and personalities.

  • The litmus test: If you asked an individual to explain your company’s values, could he or she could not only describe them but also show how they relate to company vision and brand? Are your sous-chefs cooking from the same recipe?

The second ingredient centers on a shared vision. You must use what you know – a vision of where you want the organization to go – to inform the individual change journeys of your stakeholders. Each person must participate in the change, have a stake in it, and be equipped to execute toward it. If shared values create loyalty, shared vision instills commitment.

  • The litmus test: Are your stakeholders willing to stick to the goal even when doing so becomes hard? Will they stay in the kitchen even when it gets too hot?

The final ingredient is brand. You and your stakeholders must co-create a definition of your tribe and its purpose. If shared vision inspires commitment, brand ensures focus. This isn’t always easy. From time to time, transformational leaders have to part ways with those who are toxic.

  • The litmus test: Even though everyone has different roles in the organization, are you directionally aligned toward the same goal? Is everyone making the same soufflé, or have some gone rogue devising a resource-draining dessert? Is there a shared, consistent experience among stakeholders? Remember, brand is as much about how people feel and experience, as it is a definition of purpose.

By connecting with your stakeholders on a shared vision, values and brand, you will set the foundational stones for successful corporate change: loyalty, commitment, focus and pride. However, that’s just the beginning. You must go further. You must flip the boardroom and turn your stakeholders into leaders. Your sous-chefs must take turns being chefs. How you do this forms the topic of my next post.

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