5 Ways to Help Transformational Leaders Align: Actionable Steps to Align During Transformation

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Written by: Julie Williamson, PhD

We’ve all seen the grim statistics – major organizational transformations often fail to return as expected to the business. So, how can transformational leaders find alignment and start achieving their most ambitious goals? Read more to find out.

Transformation is hard work.

We want transformational leaders to do the RIGHT hard work.

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We’ve all seen the grim statistics – major organizational transformations often fail to return as expected to the business. Many fail to produce any significant change in products, processes, ways of working, market presence, or financial growth. This happens despite senior leaders’ best plans and intentions and the most earnest change management practitioners. 

Transformation is hard work. We want transformational leaders to do the RIGHT hard work, starting with themselves first and then working to change others. We believe the focus on changing others without making sure senior leaders align and transform themselves is a misplaced investment because organizations will only go where their leaders go first. That’s where the power of aligned leaders really shines.

When senior leaders fail to change, they have an amplified impact on the rest of the organization.

Doing the right work requires the most senior leaders to change themselves before changing others. Kouzes and Posner called it ‘modeling the way’ in their best-selling book The Leadership Challenge, and it is absolutely required if a transformation is going to meet its goals. Too often, senior leaders are allowed to avoid confronting and changing themselves individually and as a leadership team. Instead, we let them focus on organizational factors like re-working the org chart, re-engineering processes, or getting their team members to change without tackling the amplified impact their individual mindsets and group dynamics have on success. When senior leaders fail to change, they have an amplified impact on the rest of the organization through the model they set.

Helping leaders to visibly move from agreement to alignment during times of transformation is vital. They need to do more than nod in agreement and drive others to change. They must take on the hard work of shifting their own behavior and decision-making processes to deliver different outcomes.

If you are ambitious enough to transform your business, your leaders need to transform as well. And so do you.

It requires the courage to:

  • Interrupt old patterns of decision making and learn new ones
  • Let go of ways of working that made you successful in the past
  • Create visible alignment to a new strategy, direction, or purpose.

Through our work at Karrikins Group, we help leaders to actively and visibly move from agreement to alignment. As we’ve worked across industries with companies of all sizes, we’ve found a handful of tangible actions that help transformational leaders to do the hard work of starting with themselves to move to alignment. Five of them consistently rise to the top at organizations that succeed in moving into alignment and delivering accelerated growth and amplified impact.

Here are 5 things to try if you are looking to move into alignment:

  1. Co-Create Clarity – Knowing what alignment looks like in terms of decisions and behaviors can only be done collectively. This can drive some tough discussions about long-held relationships with suppliers, distributors, employees, and customers. It can also challenge individual leader autonomy and preferred projects. However, without these kinds of discussions, it is impossible for a leadership team to move forward in alignment.
  2. Acknowledge Tradeoffs – Tradeoffs create tension in the systems of leadership that are most familiar and comfortable. They are natural – they will never go away, and the goal is not to fully resolve them. Instead, alignment requires recognizing when and where they are influencing decisions and how leaders respond to them. A common tradeoff is short-term results and long-term investments. There is no consistent right answer – tradeoffs are made every day in this space. Making the tradeoff visible and wrestling with it in a different way is a critical step in transformational alignment.
  3. Share the Struggle – Leaders sometimes make the mistake of thinking that their job is to protect their people from change. In today’s business environment, where change is a constant, a leader’s highest order calling is actually to create change-able people. In doing so, leaders cultivate resilience and capability among their teams. One easy way to build this muscle is by sharing the struggle to change from the highest levels in the organization. When a leader says it is time to transform, the best way they can lead the charge is by telling their organization exactly how it will be hard for them to change and the hard work they are putting in to do so. Speaking from the heart and talking through how they navigate tradeoffs and personal preferences that are challenged by the new direction will make it real to people. This creates the groundswell that is needed across the organization as others start to model their thinking processes and ways of working.
  4. Foster Accountability – Anyone who’s ever been on a diet knows that accountability is a key element of success. Leaders need to demonstrate to their organizations that they are being held accountable to their own change before they ask others to do the same – they can’t just hold others accountable; they must do the same for themselves. Accountability Coaches can work with leaders and their teams to set the conditions for alignment and help them to stay accountable to the new direction. It is very difficult to see habits, behaviors, and default settings that teams have settled on over the years. Having an outside eye on things can help make these visible and create safe and clear paths to change.
  5. Insist on Transparency – Create processes that promote transparency across the most senior team. Transparency and accountability processes are less about status reports and more about comparing individual notes, sharing challenges, and being honest about how and why decisions are being made. Senior leaders, especially P&L owners, often work autonomously within their own budgets, and sharing information and insight with their colleagues might not be a natural practice. Building a new kind of sharing across the senior team will help drive transparency, create a sense of connection, and ultimately move the organization towards accelerated impact.

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Change starts with self.

Moving from agreement to alignment means changing deeply embedded habits, recasting success stories, and shifting your identity as a leader to drive collective outcomes. It is harder than it seems on the surface, and transformational leaders who have the courage to go first and take on the challenge of alignment will accelerate success. These five steps will ease the path to alignment for your leaders and unlock the tremendous potential of your organization.

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Want to continue exploring aligned leadership? Visit our collection of resources:

Exceptional Results Come from Alignment

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Alignment is a solvable problem for those willing to do the work, and the challenge of alignment shouldn’t hold you or your team back. Schedule a 30-minute conversation to learn how alignment can result in a greater impact for you & your team.