You’re the leader of a strong team.
You have a great idea.
It’s backed by a bold vision.
But are those things enough for your team to reach their true potential? For YOU to reach your true potential?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. There is another critical component: alignment.
No matter how great the idea or how bold the vision, if you, as leader, cannot get your followers aligned behind that vision, you’ll never reach your true potential.
What is Alignment?
Your organization is aligned when every person is enthusiastically bought in to the leader and the vision, and everyone knows their unique role in making the vision a reality.
Effective leaders recognize that their employees will do their best work when they are committed to a purpose and a vision. They recognize that commitment is the gateway to accountability, self-motivation and creative problem solving. Effective leaders seek alignment.
Ineffective leaders, on the other hand, believe that workers inherently dislike work, show little ambition without enticement and will avoid responsibility whenever possible. These leaders tend to see little value in buy-in. Rather than seeking alignment, ineffective leaders pursue compliance.
Steps to Create Alignment
Alignment is not an item on a successful organization checklist.
It is a fluid process that requires continual monitoring and adjustment as conditions and needs change.
The following three steps will help you create and maintain organizational alignment.
Your team must understand your vision – clearly. Seek to succinctly communicate your vision by providing enough information, but not too much information. As Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
A succinct vision contains a headline that is ideally a single sentence. If the headline is more than a single sentence it is likely too complex.
Once you have your headline then develop your talking points. Here are some questions to consider:
- What is the most compelling reason why this new effort is being undertaken?
- What are the essential details?
- How can details be grouped together in a way that’s simple and logical?
- What 2-3 points do I want people to walk away with?
- What is the most down-to-earth and transparent way to describe how the group will benefit when it’s all done?
Your team members need to see themselves in the vision for the vision to catch fire. Creating clarity is like taking a family picture on Thanksgiving. The first person you look at is yourself. If you look good then chances are you will like the picture. If you do not look good then chances are you will not like the picture. Your team members want to see that they look good in the picture you are painting.
Dialogue comes from the Greek word dia-logos. Dia means through, and logos means word or meaning. Put together, the word suggests “a free-flowing of meaning through a group, allowing the group to discover insights not attainable individually.”
Suspend judgement and seek to see the vision through the eyes of others. You have probably worked on this vision for some time while your team is just now hearing it for the first time. This requires patience, openness and active listening.
Most of us want to feel heard before we are willing to listen. In fact, three of the main factors that have the highest correlation to demotivated employees is not feeling valued, not feeling like they are heard and not having their opinions considered. Don’t be a leader who demotivates employees by not listening and valuing the opinions of others.
Dialogue has another benefit. It provides you with an opportunity to address concerns and ask for buy-in. A leader who does not value dialogue runs the risk of creating a passive aggressive environment where followers say yes to the leader’s face while saying no to everyone else.
We all want those we lead to get it – to share our vision, our plan, our urgency and our passion. But what so many leaders forget is that it’s just as important for people to know that you get them, value them and understand them.
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
~ Antoine de Sainte-Exupery
Are you inspiring others?
Research shows that very few leaders consider themselves inspirational. Yet when people are asked to give their leaders feedback one of the most common requests is “do more to rally people to achieve goals.”
To be more inspirational first start with yourself. Make sure that you are passionate about your vision. When Steve Jobs told his employees that the Macintosh was going to “change the world,” his employees believed it. They believed it because he believed it. Your vision may not be as bold as Steve Job’s vision; however, you need your followers to feel your passion and conviction.
Develop emotional talking points. You can use the same talking point strategy from above, except this time speak to their hearts rather than their heads. Try asking this question, “What three things will we feel best about when we successfully achieve our vision?”
Remember that followers tend to internalize and reflect the same feelings put forth by the leader. Your moods, opinions, and actions rub off on your followers. If you come across as cynical, unsure, or pessimistic, it will be mirrored by the group. On the flip side, if you convey an upbeat optimism, your followers will likely do the same; if you appear excited and committed to the vision, your followers will be, too.
Finally, point to the successes. Change is difficult. Even leaders hate change when it is not their idea. To keep your team aligned and engaged; point to the progress you are making. Offer praise five times for every one criticism or problem. Recognize that mistakes are part of growth. Let the inevitable mistakes that come when pursuing a bold vision refine you and your followers rather than defining you and your followers as incapable.
Leaders project bold visions. When you master the art of alignment you will turn your bold vision into today’s reality.