Closing Stakes Gaps

Every leadership challenge comes with a small or large stakes gap.  If you don't close that gap, you cannot get people ardently committed to your cause.  Here's an 8-step process to close stakes gaps.

By Brent Filson - 9/2008

Most leaders suffer from a deadly virus. It‘s, a virus of the mind. Just as a physical virus can make you very sick or kill you, this mental virus can sicken your job performance and ultimately kill your career potential.

I call it the stakes-gap virus.

There are always stakes in leadership challenges. Stakes are what will be gained or lost if certain action is or isn’t taken.

A stakes gap exists when leaders and the people differ in what the stakes are regarding a specific challenge.

For example, let’s say you want to lead people to run. Many leaders believe that because they, as leaders, want people to run, the people will really want to do it. But that’s what I call the Leader’s Fallacy. The Leader’s Fallacy is the mistaken belief by leaders that their own needs are automatically reciprocated by the needs of the people they lead. Automatic reciprocity doesn’t exist. Reciprocity must be earned.

Don’t be deceived by the Leader’s Fallacy. Don’t automatically think they want to run simply because you say they should.

Instead, ask the simple but profound question: "Do they really want to run?"

A way of getting the right answer is to engage in an examination of the stakes. What’s at stake if they run? What’s at stake if they don’t run?

If there is a difference between what you believe is at stake and what they believe is at stake, you have a stakes gap. And until you close that gap, you cannot motivate them to make the choice to run.

Here is an 8 Step Process to close stakes gaps.

1. Select which side of the gap (or gap-bridge) that you want to focus on, i.e., the side that will get results. (Do not necessarily focus on your side of the gap. Their side might be more important for getting results, or bridging the gap may be more important.) For example, they want to walk, you need for them to run. In this case, RUN is going to get you the best results. Focus on the RUN side.

2. Recast your selection as a PROBLEM. For example, your audience does not want to run.

3. Precisely define that problem by breaking it down into its defining characteristics, those concrete factors that make up the problem. For example, you may think that they don't want to run because they are lazy. From your perspective, their laziness is the problem's defining characteristic. But from their perspective, they might not want to run not because they are lazy but because: 1. They don't have the proper running shoes. 2. They don't feel they are in shape. 3. They fear they will fail. Same problem, different defining characteristics.


4. You and they must agree on the defining characteristics of the problem. If you tell them that they are lazy when, from their standpoint, their major concerns are shoes, physical conditioning, and failure, you cannot motivate them. Unless and until you and they agree on the defining characteristics of the problem, you cannot close the motivational gap.

5. Once you have agreed on the defining characteristics of the problem, examine each characteristic in terms of its relevancy or irrelevancy in getting results. For example, you change your mind and agree with them that it is not their laziness that prevents them from running but their lack of shoes, lack of conditioning, and their fear of failure. Are those characteristics relevant or irrelevant in terms of their getting results? If irrelevant, the audience must understand why. If relevant, go to Step 6.


Create a process (action steps) to solve the problem. Process translates concepts into action. Solve major problems with process, since process can be used to solve similar problems. Don't create your process downstream-to-upstream but instead upstream-to-downstream. For instance, develop a process that will get them committed to running. Tell them that you will give them information on how to run well and the equipment to run well and that you will train them and put them through conditioning exercises, practice sessions, and competitions. Important: Differentiate between concept and process. Don't just create the concept. Instead, create the specific action processes that realize the concept. Also: Differentiate between procedure and process. Procedures are rules usually imposed upon people from the outside. Processes are organic actions that grow from inside out. There are four requirements of processes in The Leadership Talk: 1. Processes must get results. 2. They must be measured. 3. They must have value. 4. They must be tied to the heartfelt convictions of the people who use them.

7. Close the gap by having them become committed to your process. Until they demonstrate such commitment (i.e., commitment to your solution to their problem), they are not and cannot be motivated.

8. Monitor the closure as you put them through the process to insure that the gap does not open again. Be constantly engaged in gap-analysis, gap-closing. 

Throughout your career, continually be identifying stakes gaps, closing them, and keeping them closed. In doing so, you’ll boost the effectiveness of your leadership in many powerful ways.

2008 © The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.



9/2008© The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. – Celebrating 25 years of helping leaders of top companies worldwide achieve outstanding results every day. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get his FREE report "7 Steps To Leadership Mastery"