The BLG Blog

Posts & articles that have helped thousands build performance through pragmatic leadership.

4 Tactics for Sustaining the Coalition Mindset

Often leaders are fantastic on getting people on their side, mobilizing grand coalitions, and then they drop the ball. Last night after the elections, there were numerous discussions as to what happened to the Obama coalition–is it around, is it dissipated? If the Obama coalition was still around, what happened to the independent voters?  Why did the vote go disproportionately Republican when a year ago independents voted disproportionally Democrat?

The Obama administration seems to be in danger of letting a coalition mindset slip away.  A coalition mindset is an energizing force.  A group of individuals can work together at the same time, in the same office, and even on the same project.  But if they don’t share the sense that they are mobilized for a purpose, and that they are moving together toward a specific end which they are all vested in, they are not a group capable of sustaining political momentum.  Political momentum can only be sustained with a coalition mindset.

A coalition mindset is critical to sustaining political momentum. In order to not lose the coalition mindset, you have to:

  • Reinvigorate the vision
  • Reinforce the benefits
  • Sustain optimism
  • Maintain your credibility

1. Reinvigorate the vision. Sometimes sustaining momentum becomes drudgery. Day in and day out, feeling like Sisyphus, rolling the stone uphill hoping that it won’t roll back on top of you. Sometimes it is the world of Willy Loman. Going to work, coming home, pushing ahead. You sit in your office plugging away at odds and ends and hope that something is moving. But at any given moment, everything seems as if you are living on a glacier—going nowhere slowly. Even though it seems you made some progress, in reality, you are exactly where you were the day before.

In this context, what you need to sustain a coalition mindset is to reinvigorate the vision. A vision alone cannot sustain momentum.  Managerially competent leaders know how to return to the vision periodically to remind people what the long-term objective is all about.

2. Reinforce the benefits. While charismatically reinforcing the vision is critical in sustaining the coalition mindset, there is also a need to revisit an individual’s rational calculation.  Sure, they joined your effort because they believed in it.  But they also joined it because they expected certain benefits.  Economists talk of the “expected-utility” of belonging to a group.  Just as when discussing motivation, people do ask, “What’s in it for me?”  In other words, people will decide whether to stay with your initiative on the basis of what rewards they are able to reap.  It is rational to expect that they’ll stay in a coalition mindset as long as they at least subjectively feel that the potential payoff of working with you versus working against you or on another initiative is beneficial to them.

Your responsibility in sustaining a coalition mindset is to make it clear to the critical sectors in the organization what is essential to the bottom-line is to put resources and time into your effort.  It is important to reinvigorate vision, but it is equally important to remind everyone of the bottom-line payoff.

3. Sustain optimism. In keeping the coalition mindset, one of the essential things is your capacity to sustain optimism.  You need to give people a sense that, sure there are obstacles, sure there are bumps on the road, sure, there are difficulties—but if you all hang together you can achieve success.  A mistake that some leaders make is that they spin-off into self-reflective negativism, thinking that if they share their hesitation and concern, they will create sympathetic alliances.  They’ll go to members of their group and tell them that they understand the difficulties and hope that the coalition mindset will be vitalized by a self-reflective downer.  That’s not likely to happen.

A better way to sustain the coalition mindset is with the simple statement, “Things are tough, yes.  But, we’re going to make it.”  When creating optimism you don’t want to be naïve.  You want to make it clear you understand what is holding you back, but the obstacles and hurdles are surmountable.  If you fail to project a sense of optimism, your coalition mindset will dissipate, no one will be on your side, and you’re not going anyplace.

4. Maintain your credibility. The coalition mindset is going to be sustained if people continue to believe in you and your ideas.  Credibility implies that others have trust in your intent and in your capacity to stay with the program and move things forward.  In order to sustain a coalition mindset, you need others to perceive that you have the credibility to push your initiative forward.  Remember that credibility is something that others confer on you; it’s not something you solicit from them.  Credibility may not guarantee others will agree with you, but it provide some assurance that they will give you the benefit of the doubt and stay with you.  Without it, rest assured you’re not moving forward.

When people initially get around your proposal, they are likely to view you as credible.  As you move down the road and deal with the practical aspects of getting things done, your credibility may wear thin and questions may arise. Do you have the expertise to go the distance? Do you have the authority to make the important decisions?  Do you really know what’s going on?  Do you have the personal integrity to stay the course and do the right thing?

Credibility is a quickly spent commodity.  To assure that you sustain the coalition mindset, your credibility needs to be replenished from time to time.

Picture source: AFP/GETTY IMAGES



About BLG

Whether you want BLG to deliver a complete leadership academy across your organization, focus on a key group, or supplement an ongoing program, the primary goal of any of our programs will be business impact.

Recent Posts


Sign up for our Newsletter