What to Do When Leaders Pull in Different Directions

Every organization wants and needs strong leaders. But pure, brute-force strength can be as much a liability as an advantage. Think about the South American gaucho of older times taming wild horses. Obviously, a wild horse has tremendous strength, and that strength could be put to use in countless agricultural and transportation applications. A team of wild horses has immense power, which in a physics sense has to do with energy transferred per unit of time. When that power is aligned, far more can be accomplished in a shorter period of time.

But when that power exists without alignment, not only will no work be accomplished, the result could be destruction. Similarly, strong leaders whose goals are aligned can take businesses to unprecedented levels of excellence, while a C-suite full of strong-minded leaders with their own agendas can end up wreaking havoc. Here’s what organizations must do to ensure leaders pull the organization in alignment with common goals.

What Leadership Alignment Means
Leadership alignment does not mean an executive floor full of clones. If all the leaders are alike, then what’s the purpose of having so many of them? Leaders can have their own goals and reach them to the benefit of the entire organization as long as all leaders are in pursuit of common, overarching goals of the organization.

Naturally, different leaders will approach their tasks differently. The CIO will look at a goal from the point of view of someone who wants to ensure the IT infrastructure is equal to the tasks ahead, while the CFO looks at the goals with an eye toward maintaining financial strength. And while there will be conflicts along the way, when leaders are genuinely pursuing aligned goals, it’s far easier to work through those conflicts productively, without any single leader getting everything their way while another completely loses out.

Benefits of Aligned Leadership Goals
What can an organization expect when it makes the effort to ensure that top leadership goals are in alignment? A pleasanter place to work for one thing. But in terms of measurable results, organizations can expect three big payoffs:

Higher operating margins
Faster execution of strategy
Lower employee turnover
Aligned Leadership

Aligned leadership goals benefit the entire organization
Those are all major benefits that should never be dismissed. When employees understand their individual and team goals and how they contribute to overall organizational success, they’re more engaged with their work, and more productive. And when goals are aligned from the outset, there will be less backtracking or trial and error in putting strategies into place. There will likely also be less duplication of effort. These efforts result in more highly engaged employees, and the value of an engaged workforce is enormous. One widely-quoted Gallup poll found that companies with large numbers of disengaged workers experience 51% higher employee turnover – an expensive and time-consuming problem.

Top Leadership Must Embrace and Encourage Communication
Communication is at the heart of goal alignment, as it is with most other aspects of successful operation of an organization. In today’s tech-soaked world, there is simply no excuse for leaders not communicating with each other. Someone’s being out of office or on an important call doesn’t prevent information from being shared, since we have so many effective modes of communication. Top leaders must not only set an example of regular, meaningful communication, they must encourage it among the entire leadership team, ensuring everyone has the resources they need to communicate effectively.

One of the main purposes of leadership coaching is ensuring that a new or emerging leader works effectively with other leaders. Often, executive coaching clients specifically request help with skills like effective communication and the emotional intelligence necessary to see situations from multiple perspectives. In my many years of leadership coaching, I have seen in person the positive changes that ensue when top-level leaders learn how to lead in alignment, and I have been fortunate to help organizations and leaders develop their ability to do so. If you’re curious about the process of ensuring top leadership goals are in alignment, then I encourage you to learn more about my leadership coaching services.

The “boss” can be an almost cartoonish character in people’s minds. In fact, ask a child what a “boss” is, and they’re likely to describe the virtual enemy they must overcome to advance to a higher level in their favorite video game.  This is not to say that a boss is not necessary in some situations. Sometimes at work, things simply must get done, and ruffled feathers can be addressed later on. Not all bosses are leaders, however. Likewise, sometimes leaders must, in tactical measures, behave like a boss. So, is your boss a true leader? And if you’re the boss, are you seen as a leader?

Here are 5 Differences Between a “Boss” and a “Leader”

1. Leaders Lead, while Bosses Push

A true leader is someone you would willingly follow into battle. They don’t need to push people to get good performance out of them, because they make people want to do what they do to the best of their ability. There may be rare occasions when a leader must be more specific to deal with incidents and deadlines, but they don’t primarily get performance by dragooning their team into completing tasks.

2. Bosses Tend to Talk More than They Listen

A boss who is not a true leader tends to talk more than listen, with the attitude being, “Do this, and don’t ask questions, because I know what I’m doing.” Leaders, by contrast, tend to listen more than they talk. A leader wants to know if there’s a bottleneck in the process, or if there’s a better way to accomplish things, and is not threatened by suggestions from people “under” them.

3. Leaders Get into the Trenches with their Teams

Leaders are not only willing to get into the trenches with their teams, they find it the experience meaningful and empowering. Maybe the person who inspects the engineering drawings is out of town, so the leader draws on their relevant engineering experience to take over the inspection in the meantime. Or maybe the restaurant is slammed, so the leader plates orders and keeps things moving. Leaders aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and do real work.

4. Bosses Get Things Done; Leaders Get Things Done While Empowering and Motivating

A good boss gets things done. Products get made and shipped. Numbers get crunched on time. Objectives get met almost all the time. A leader, however, takes it a step further, by ensuring things get done by a team that is empowered to solve problems and motivated to do their best work. Leaders empower and motivate by listening, by seeking to understand, and by being willing to get their hands dirty when necessary.

5. Bosses Sometimes Need Fear; Leaders Don’t

Fear, unfortunately, is an overused tool by some bosses. They believe it is more straightforward to intimidate people into doing their work with threats of firing or other retaliation than to learn about the people they work with and discover better ways of meeting goals. Leaders, on the other hand, don’t need to use fear as a productivity “stick.” They take the time to get to know their team members and what makes them tick, and they work with people as individuals rather than cogs in a machine.

Leadership coaching sometimes involves teaching someone the difference between being a “boss” and being a “leader.” Particularly if someone rises to a top leadership position based on what they accomplish on paper, they may find that what worked at lower levels of leadership is no longer effective when working with people higher up the corporate food chain.

CEO coaching, in particular, may require helping company leaders to re-envision their role with the understanding that it’s time for others to worry about directing day-to-day operational work while they worry about the longer-term success of the organization. Seeing someone make the transition to being a true leader is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of leadership coaching, and I feel fortunate indeed to have been a part of that process over the years.

©  2018  John Mattone   All rights reserved.


Please signup/login to add the speaker in wishlist