5 things leaders do that could compromise stakeholder buy-in

Getting stakeholder buy-in is difficult under the best of circumstances; regaining their buy-in after it is lost is almost impossible. Here are some things that can hurt your cause.

three team members

Image: iStock/whyframestudio

Regardless of your leadership role, your stakeholders expect certain things from you in return for their buy-in and loyalty. Understanding this is key to ensuring that you not only secure their buy-in but also maintain it. But not all leaders recognize this and often compromise stakeholder buy-in by doing these five things — are you guilty of these?

SEE: TechRepublic Premium editorial calendar: IT policies, checklists, toolkits, and research for download (TechRepublic Premium)

1. Not having a clear understanding of the stakeholders  

Not all leaders truly understand or can clearly identify their stakeholders. If you're a project or team leader, your stakeholders will be different from the CEO of a private or public sector company or a municipal or county leader. Getting and keeping buy-in requires a leader to understand who their stakeholders are, where they are, and what makes them a stakeholder. When a leader doesn't have a solid grasp of this, their communication, initiatives, and direction can be off-target and risk completely missing stakeholder interests or values. 

SEE: 5 traits other leaders can learn from successful project managers (TechRepublic)

2. Ignoring or overriding stakeholders' input

Meeting stakeholders' expectations is the key to maintaining buy-in. Without it, a leader may gain buy-in initially, but they are unlikely to keep it. Regardless of a leader's knowledge or experience, it's unwise to either ignore or override stakeholders' input. This will result in not reestablishing the influence needed to move things in the right direction. Stakeholders are highly perceptive in recognizing when their input or concerns have been overlooked or pushed aside. If there's a valid reason for a leader to consider overriding a stakeholder's input or expectations, it's wise to first discuss it with them before making any unexpected changes. 

SEE: 5 lessons project managers can learn from the first 2020 US presidential debate (TechRepublic) 

3. Putting their own agendas ahead of their stakeholders'

Most stakeholders recognize when their needs have taken a back seat; this is something that leaders understand all too well. But not every leader remembers this all of the time, and it can jeopardize stakeholder buy-in. Self-focus, selfishness, and self-adulation can often trip-up leaders, making stakeholders question the intent behind a leader's past, present, and future decisions. Putting one's own agendas ahead of the needs of stakeholders damages trust and decreases credibility. Once this occurs, it can also become impossible to repair the damage or regain buy-in.

SEE: 4 things new project managers should learn to be effective (TechRepublic) 

4. Withholding information

The adage "knowledge is power" holds in all aspects of life and business. Those who have the knowledge and choose to share it almost always find it easier to gain buy-in, assuming the knowledge is positive and provided without strings. When leaders withhold information it may be seen by others as: 

  • Protecting others from harm
  • Deriving a benefit or lead over others
  • Jealousy 
  • A control tactic
  • Fear that others may get ahead

Unless the information is intended to be confidential or could cause grave harm, stakeholders should not be left in the dark or presumed better off without knowledge. When leaders withhold information from stakeholders, it is seldom seen in a positive light. 

SEE: Here's how project and program managers can improve delivery after the pandemic (TechRepublic)

5. Catering only to some stakeholders instead of all

People as a whole expect to be treated fairly, and stakeholders are no different. When stakeholders feel that they are not receiving the same benefits, consideration, or treatment by their leaders, they are guaranteed to develop resentment. Leaders may or may not be aware that they are catering to some stakeholders over others. Regardless, the outcome is the same: A decrease in buy-in. Avoiding favoritism is something that takes conscious effort. Once the damage is done, stakeholders may find it nearly impossible to build back trust.

Also see