Triple "A" Leadership; Touchstones from the Sea; Awareness - Part 2

In Part I of my thoughts on leadership I encouraged you to develop touchstones for effective performance in a leadership role.  Highlighted were principles you could use as resources in decision-making; the first of which was awareness.  This issue will look at the second of the three; alignment.  A future issue will discuss accountability.  All of these comprise what I call TRIPLE “A” LEADERSHIP.

I believe that nature offers us important lessons, so once again I will return to the ocean-an effective teacher to be sure.  If you sit on a beach and observe the pattern of waves rolling in (I hope you are doing things like this now in order to access your own voice, see Triple “A” Leadership, Part I), you will notice that they are not in exactly parallel, but close.  When the waves are coming in at significantly different angles, there is some wasted force, as well as the creation of dangerous cross currents.  When you observe a flock of pelicans soaring along the air above the water, they are in a pattern, but not always the exact same one.  When snorkeling you can observe schools of fish swimming in the same direction, often changing course abruptly if a predator is sighted.  Again, they are swimming in a pattern but not a “perfect predictable” pattern.  These are examples of alignment.

What would happen to the pelicans if they did not have the same flight plan?  Have you noticed them crashing into each other?  What about the fish… when they need to change direction quickly do they bump into each other or do they turn and regroup quickly?  From nature we can gather many examples of alignment at work.  Waves, fish, and pelicans have been around a lot longer than organizations.  Perhaps there is something to be said for this “alignment” idea!

To me, alignment means “ pulling together” as in a crew shell when the coxswain announces “stroke, stroke, stroke…” If left on their own, the members of the crew team would probably pull at a similar rate, with similar timing, but the result is not as effective as when the effort is coordinated.  This is a reflection of maximized alignment.  In nature, i.e. waves, pelicans and fish, alignment is approximate.  This affords some variation or innovation, yet keeps everyone moving in the same direction with the same goal.  Parallel wave patterns are not the same, flight patterns of pelicans are not the same and schools of fish swim in infinitely different patterns, yet all reflect alignment

In an organization alignment is a group of people, namely the employees, all working toward common, shared and discussed, goals.  The patterns of this alignment are infinite, but they are understood so that “crashing” into each other does not occur on a regular basis.  Maximized alignment (i.e. crew shell performance) may not be what is desired in an organization because it may not allow for innovation and individual organizational differences.  However, a healthy amount of alignment is necessary for effective organizational performance.  Alignment can be a collaborative pattern that is unique, as long as efforts are coordinated.  The amount of resources wasted in organizations not aligned toward goal achievement is staggering.  Lost profit, wasted time, decreased market share, turnover of personnel, poor morale are all “crashing pelicans and fish and dangerous cross currents”.


-What level of alignment exists in your organization?
-Ask employees if they know where the organization is going and how their specific,
 daily tasks contribute to reaching the destination
 -Look at the indicators of alignment
            -rate of employee turnover
            -profits; costs
            -market share/sales volume
            -number of new products developed

As a leader in your organization, one of your most important duties is to LEAD.  Among the best ways of doing this is to emphasize the goals of the organization and behave in a manner consistent with their achievement.  Align the decisions you make with the goals of the organization and encourage other managers to do the same.  When you find yourself at a crossroad—look at the vision and goals for the answer.

Repetition cannot be overdone.  Remember when you were struggling to learn a foreign language?  You were encouraged to repeat, repeat, and repeat.  This is a good way for individuals to assimilate or “take in” the vision and goals of the organization.  It has been said that one test of fluency is to dream in the foreign language.  Hopefully, your employees will know the goals so well that their minds will slip easily into using them as everyday guidelines.

“But we don’t have time for this…”
I argue that you cannot afford NOT to do this.  
“What is the purpose of employees getting to know each other?  They will only waste more time on personal discussions.”
Think about it.  Are you more likely to work in concert with those you know something about?  One barrier to alignment is fear.  Fear of the other person’s agenda; fear they will take our power; fear they will “win” and we will “lose”.  A good way to neuter fear is to let people know something about each other.  When we don’t know anything about another person, it is human nature to create ideas about the other in the absence of real data. 

So, although I do not advocate all employees being “best buddies”, I do believe it is imperative to collaborative alignment that employees know something about the agenda and personality of those they are expected to work with closely.  Voice mail, e-mail, and memos have their place, but nothing beats an occasional face-to-face meeting.

We are not pelicans, fish or waves.  As humans, we have the gift of communication via language and the written word.  In order that organizations share a vision and goals, communication needs to flow freely in ALL directions.  Alignment depends upon it.   Can I know how you understand and interpret the vision and goals if we do not communicate?  How are we expected to collaborate our efforts if we are potentially heading towards two (or more) different destinations, or see those destinations in a very different manner?  Innovation flourishes in organizations where these discussions are the norm rather than the exception.

So, take a look at your team and your organization.  Are you in collaborative alignment?  Or are you more like crashing pelicans, confused fish or dangerous crosscurrents?  Alignment starts from the top.  What is your leadership legacy?


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