Moving From Buy-In to Engagement: Why Buy-In May Not Be Enough

–with Doug Dickerson

 None of us is as smart as all of us.

Ken Blanchard

In his bookThe 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell devotes a chapter to Law 14 – The Law of Buy-In. In it, he states, “People don’t at first follow worthy causes. They follow worthy leaders who promote worthwhile causes. People buy into the leader first, then the leader’s vision.” This statement is profoundly true, simple, and complicated all at the same time.

Many leaders and many more organizations work diligently on buy-in. We aren’t knocking it, we understand that without it, you’re dead in the water. But making the transition from buy-in to engagement can be difficult.

Here’s what we know. The latest 2019 Employee Engagement Report from TINYpulse found that employee loyalty is decreasing. 43% of workers would be willing to leave their companies for a 10% salary increase. A staggering 44% of employees don’t feel they have sufficient opportunities for professional growth in their current position. Less than one-third of people believe they have a strong culture.

We can’t say enough about the importance of buy-in. It means so much for so many reasons. But without active engagement, everything else is in jeopardy. With this in mind, we have identified four essentials that we believe are necessary for engagement.


The hardest task for you as a leader is to get the buy-in. Selling the ‘why’ to a prospective team member or client puts your vision to the test every time. And, the truth be told, before they buy into the vision, they buy into you as a leader. Oftentimes the crisis of buy-in is not about the organization or product, it’s the leadership.

Everyone is searching for meaning and purpose. People thrive when they feel their work is meaningful. This meaning is not found in the work itself, it is found in connecting their work to a purpose larger than themselves. Your ‘why’, as a leader, provides purpose and direction that gives those who follow you something to believe in. It appeals to others on an emotional level and makes work feel less like work and more like a purpose.

People will be more engaged when they buy into your leadership and are excited about the work they are doing.


Once buy-in has been achieved, now the real work begins. How do you harness the momentum that buy-in gives you and turn it into action steps that advance you? We believe communication is essential and that it should take place on a regular basis.

American psychologist, Rollo May, believed that “Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy, and mutual valuing.” This sense of community fosters an environment where others feel safe to collaborate, cooperate, and compromise.

Effective leaders use conversations to build connections, convey information, share stories and thoughts, and to encourage questions.

These connections form trusting relationships that earn a commitment from others. The safety and inclusion of the relationships built on open communication enhance engagement.


We believe that engagement is the life-blood of your organization. With that in mind, it must not only be communicated regularly, but it must also be given priority. With this in mind, ownership must be taken at all levels and coaching is critical to how it’s done.

Successful leaders play the role of coach and supporter with an emphasis on helping others succeed. They invest their time and resources into building others up. We are drawn to those who want the best for us and will use their strengths to help us achieve our goals. Your employees are more likely to become fully engaged when they know that you will always be there to offer support and catch them if they fall.


Engagement is not hard to measure, but we believe you must keep your finger on the pulse of your organization at all times.

The time to find out about issues that impact your people and their performance is not at the end of the year; by then it’s too late.

Accountability boils down to taking ownership of one’s own thoughts, words, actions, and reactions. One of the greatest keys to accountability is the level of control people feel they possess over their work. When employees are in control of the “what, when, and how” of a decision or action, their ownership and accountability skyrockets. As a result of taking ownership of their work, people will become more engaged.

At the end of the day, worthy leaders are the ones who effectively lay out their vision and get others to buy into that vision. Successful leaders are able to encourage others to move beyond buy-in to becoming fully engaged in their work. Engaged employees have a sense of purpose and know that they are making a difference. They feel safe and included because of open and ongoing communication. They feel supported by a leader who serves as a coach. And, they feel a sense of ownership and accountability for their work.

Final Thoughts

Lay a strong foundational culture for your employees by deliberately sharing a meaningful purpose, building relationships through open communication, serving as a supportive coach, and giving them control and accountability for their work. This foundation will move you from buy-in to engagement. And, active engagement is the key to success.

Co-authored with Doug Dickerson


Dr. Liz Stincelli
Dr. Liz Stincelli
LIZ is passionate about recognizing, inspiring, and igniting the leader in each of us. She focuses on helping organizations change attitudes, change communication dynamics, improve collaboration and problem-solving, engage employees, and strengthen organizational culture. Liz holds a Doctor of Management degree with an emphasis on organizational leadership. Liz offers 20+ years of pro-active operations management, problem-solving, team-building, human resources, accounting, and business administration experience in a variety of industries. She serves on the Editorial Review Board for the Independent Journal of Management and Production and the Journal of Managerial Psychology. She has also been a guest lecturer at the Bill and Vieve Gore School of Business, Westminster College.

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