How Do Leaders Create Alignment?

While weak leaders blame their followers for a lack of alignment, strong leaders know that it is their responsibility to create it. Alignment doesn’t just happen. It is created.

A Team Working Together to Row a Boat - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/EasyBuy4u, Image #4124344

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/EasyBuy4u

Years ago, I was making a major presentation to a prospective client. My boss was there, as was my boss’s boss (aka “The Big Boss”). Our goal was to sign the client and win his business. Everyone on our team was nervous, especially me—since I was the one doing the presenting.

Prior to the meeting, I had shared my presentation with my boss. He reviewed it carefully and offered some helpful feedback. Once we were both happy with it, he shared it with the Big Boss. He didn’t comment, so we both assumed he was fine with it. (This was his typical m.o.)

However, as I was actually making the presentation, I could tell that the Big Boss was uncomfortable. He didn’t say anything, but he was visibly agitated. I sensed that we weren’t aligned. However, he remained silent.

After the presentation, the prospect asked me several direct questions. I provided what I thought were simple and honest answers. My boss chimed in a few times to agree or amplify. The prospect seemed satisfied. In fact, he gave us his permission to proceed with a contract. He expressed his enthusiasm about doing business together. We shook hands and left.

I was proud of the outcome. My boss was delighted. We moved on to the next thing.

A few days after the meeting, the Big Boss sent me a blistering memo. (This was in the days before email.) He copied my boss. He was not happy with the financial arrangement I had proposed in the meeting. He challenged my motives, going so far as to ask if I was in alliance with the other side. It was hurtful and demoralizing. I almost quit.

Although painful at the time, the experience was also instructive. Looking back on it, I understand that, as a leader, I am responsible for creating organizational alignment with my team. If something slips out of alignment and I am unhappy with the outcome, then I have to ask, What was it about my leadership that created this outcome? This is something I am sure the Big Boss never did.

Creating alignment with your team consists of three components:

  1. Contact. You cannot keep your team aligned unless you have frequent contact with them. They are going to do the best with what you give them. If you don’t spend time with them, it is inevitable that they are going to make decisions you are uncomfortable with. It is your responsibility to initiate this contact. You can do this through regular one-on-one meetings, staff meetings, and by just walking around.
  2. Communication. Contact is not enough. You have to communicate. Your people cannot read your mind. They need to know what you expect. They need to understand the mission and the vision. You need to verbalize it. Over and over again. In addition, if you don’t like something, you need to speak up—before you get into a high stakes situation where dialog is happening in real time.
  3. Connection. Communication is not even enough. For true alignment to take place, your people have to know and trust your heart. They have to be committed to your success and the success of the team. You may be tempted to think that you are entitled to this by virtue of employing them. You’re not. You can buy their presence, but you can’t buy their heart. You must earn it. You can only create a connection—and thus alignment—when you open your heart and let them in.

Alignment is critical if you want to get the right things done and move your organization forward in the most effective and efficient way possible. However, it won’t happen on it’s own. As a leader, you must take the initiative to create it.

Question: Is your team aligned? What can you do today to create it?

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