“The most empowering condition of all is when the entire organization is aligned with its mission, and people’s passions and purpose are in synch with each other.”
– Bill George, Professor of Management Practice at Harvard
Business School and former CEO of Medtronic
According to Julie Straw, Vice President, of Wiley, when it comes to leadership, building alignment is key to getting people on board with your ideas… It’s about getting both emotional and rational buy-in to your vision. And alignment unites and excites people around a vision.
Alignment is a dynamic, ongoing process that requires continual monitoring and realigning as conditions and needs change. Yet, research shows that more than half of leaders report little or no training or guidance in the practice of creating alignment. In fact, only 47% report having a clear understanding of what “building alignment” even means in the context of leadership.
In The Work of Leaders: How Vision, Alignment, and Execution Will Change the Way You Lead, Julie Straw reveals three key things to building alignment with your followers: communicating with clarity, creating dialogue with your followers, and inspiring your team.
Straw’s research suggests that leaders often overlook communicating what is obvious and intuitive to them, but can seem like a mystery to followers. Leaders who master this tricky communication are good at explaining their rationale, and structuring messages so they are clearly understood.
Explaining the rationale behind the vision means providing explanations. By explaining your rationale, your team will understand where they are going, why they are going there, and what the expectations are.
When it comes to building alignment around your vision, dialogue plays a key role. Through dialogue, a leader establishes a two-way conversation that fosters shared ownership and accountability. In other words, you gain buy-in and begin to build engagement.
Dialogue is an art, but it’s also a skill that can be developed by practicing two key behaviors: exchanging perspectives and being receptive.
It’s all about exchanging perspectives. Try to get people to open up by saying “Tell me more about that” to keep the conversation going. Set the stage for an honest dialogue and make sure people have the opportunity to say what they want to say.
When it comes to getting people on board, a leader has to inspire others. It’s the leader’s job to breathe life into the vision so people are emotionally committed. In the leadership model of Vision, Alignment and Execution, there are two components that help with this: being expressive (the energy), and being encouraging (the positivity).
In addition to being expressive, leaders who excel at inspiration are also encouraging.
Alignment is a critical component of getting people on board, and without alignment, leaders won’t have the entire team pulling in the same direction, focusing on the same desired outcomes.
Yet, despite the fact that most leadership teams have nothing but the best intentions for their people, data tells us that:
- (48%) of workers think that executives are committed to the company’s vision.
- (46%) of workers think that executives have the organization’s best interests at heart too.
Why aren’t employees’ perceptions matching up with leaders’ intentions?
According to Glenn Llopis, Leaders are paid to make difficult decisions. This requires leaders to know the facts, take calculated risks, and pave the ground for their teams.
Indecisive leaders create doubt in the minds of their colleagues, employees, board members, and external partners – and often forget that success comes most to those who are surrounded by people who want their success to continue.
Being afraid of making wrong decisions becomes most apparent when leaders are redefining business models, and take more ownership of proactive measures. And according to surveys conducted by Glenn Llopis Group, 78% of leaders have difficulty understanding the consequences of and effectively articulating the requirements to thrive in the rapidly changing marketplace. Perhaps this helps to explain why leaders have become indecisive – to the point where leadership is in crisis management mode.
As you evaluate the leaders within your own organization, be on the lookout for Playing It Safe.
Watch out for leaders have become more protective of their own domain as they search for more security in what is becoming a more uncertain business climate. Being afraid to make decisions in an effort to sustain greater control over one’s department or agenda leads to widening of silos and loss of trust between people within an organization.
According to Forbes magazine, organizations encourage their leadership to be more provocative and promote thought leadership to enable new strategies for corporate growth. But when leaders are too dependent upon their senior executives, they lack the courage to take action. Leaders that grow complacent instead of acting courageous put their organizations’ futures in vulnerable positions.
When it comes to change management, leaders must be strategic to establish priorities, to take advantage of emerging opportunity gaps. Leaders must not be afraid to make the many decisions along the way to close the gaps – or they run the risk of losing momentum.
Only 32% of leaders identify themselves as change agents. This explains why so many leaders are afraid to handle the potential repercussions of decision making at a time when change is constant.
When leaders play it too safe, they begin to lose credibility from their peers, and their business acumen comes into question. In the end, leaders begin to lose respect, and more importantly lack the qualities needed to inspire a workplace culture of innovation, initiative, and continuous improvement.
The best leaders always learn and fine-tune their game.
Rich Berens provides us with the most critical actions and behaviors that great leaders and leadership teams need to embody in order to thrive in their role.
- Leaders are storytellers. The best leaders have the ability to paint a compelling vision for their people by defining what winning looks like in a powerful, understandable way. They connect with people’s hearts as much as with their heads.
- Leaders are dot connectors. Successful leaders create a common view of where the business is, where it needs to go, and how it’s going to get there. They provide clarity at all levels so individuals have a well-defined idea of how their personal goals fit into the big picture.
- Leaders keep important conversations in the room. By creating an environment built on trust, honesty, and safety, leaders keep meaningful conversations in the conference room.
- Leaders are transparent about decision making. They create the environment for healthy debate and are upfront with everyone about who is accountable and who will be making the decision. Consensus is an important and powerful thing, but alignment and support on decisions trump every time.
- Leaders motivate people to own the whole. The best leaders foster communication that occurs across the business units of an organization, not just from the top down and bottom up. When leaders ensure that their people from various disciplines are interacting and supporting each other, silos are broken down and everyone beings working together to achieve the big objectives. The true leader will put the “whole” before their own particular piece by encouraging, recognizing, and rewarding this behavior.