Sometimes it’s easy to spot the difference between a weak leader and a strong one. Take alignment. While weak leaders blame their teams when they can’t get it, strong leaders know it’s their responsibility to create it.
Years ago, I was making a major presentation to a prospective client. My boss was there. So 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 making the pitch.
A Sign Something’s Wrong
Prior to the meeting, I had shared my presentation with my boss. He reviewed it, offered some helpful feedback, and then shared it with the Big Boss. The Big Boss didn’t comment, so we both assumed he was fine with it. (This was his m.o.)
But, no. As I was actually making the presentation, I could tell the Big Boss was uncomfortable. He didn’t say anything, but he was visibly agitated. We weren’t aligned, and I could see it in his body language. 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 thrilled. And we moved on to the next acquisition with a heightened sense of possibility.
Not so fast.
An Unexpected Lesson
A few days after the meeting, the Big Boss sent me a blistering memo. He copied my boss.
He was not happy with the financial arrangement I had proposed in the meeting. He not only challenged my motives, he went 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 learned 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?”
I bet the Big Boss never did this. Despite the fact that he had a chance to weigh in in the preparation before we made the presentation, he didn’t do it. Then when things didn’t go as he wanted, he shifted responsibility.
Here’s the reality: Alignment doesn’t just happen. Leaders create it. How?
3 Components of Team Alignment
It takes three components to sync up your team for success. These components fit for leaders in large organizations, small businesses, freelancers, and nonprofits.
- 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’re going to make decisions you’re uncomfortable with.
It is your responsibility to initiate this contact. You can do this a variety of ways:
- 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 vision, mission, and desired outcomes. You need to verbalize your expectations. Over and over again.
In addition, if you don’t like the direction your team is going, you need to speak up—before you get into a high stakes situation where dialog is happening in real time. Or worse, it’s too late.
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 you’re 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.
One of the best ways to do this is to talk about the why. As leaders we create alignment when our teams can share some aspect of what motivates us. Alignment depends on everyone connecting on what’s at stake.
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.