What Is Aligned Leadership?

The space between agreement and alignment is where leadership matters most.

Learning to recognize when you and your colleagues are stuck in agreement instead of working in alignment is the first step in moving towards accelerated growth and amplified impact.

Download our free resource, The space between: Agreement to Alignment by clicking the button below.

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Aligned Leader Articles and White Paper Resources

Check out our articles, white papers, and worksheets with more in-depth conversations on alignment and exercises to help leaders build alignment.

Video Resources on Alignment

Check out our HOW Activators as they share ideas and experiences in building alignment.

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What is the Difference Between
Agreement and Alignment?

What is something people say around your organization that starts with “if only we would….” or “we really should…”? The top 5 we hear most often include ‘collaborate’, ‘innovate’, ‘break down silos’, ‘make faster decisions, and ‘commit to our strategy’. Everyone agrees with these concepts, but very few people are willing to do the hard work to align with them.

Alignment requires leaders to determine how they need to lead differently to create new outcomes. It takes courage to start with self and determine how you will change before you try to change others.

The next time you or someone else throws out an ‘if only’ or ‘we should’, ask them how they need to change to make that happen. Take the time to have the conversation about moving into alignment with new ways of working that will actually have an impact.

That conversation is where the hard work of alignment starts.

We believe that alignment is defined through clarity, commitment, and connection and fueled by the courage to change yourself first.

Clarity brings focus and attention on how to lead individually and collectively to deliver on strategies, plans, and transformations. Too often, leaders are deeply invested in what needs to be done but fail to give equal energy to how they will change personally to deliver on it.

Leaders need a connection not only to the goals of the transformation, but also to each other as they take on the hard work as a team. Most executive teams underleverage the power of the collective leadership experience. By working differently as a leadership team, executives can hold each other accountable to delivering a transformed organization.

Leaders must have a commitment to personally doing what needs to be done to transform. We often see leaders making commitments for others or exhorting their employees to commit to doing.

It takes courage to change yourself before you work to change others. As a leader, it is so important to take the first steps because you will model the way for others. And if the transformation doesn’t require you or other leaders to change, it probably isn’t much of a transformation after all!

Beware The Failure Gap

The Failure Gap is the space between agreement and alignment.

We see the Failure Gap most often when executive teams come to agreement on priorities, strategies, opportunities to pursue, or transformational changes that are needed without doing the hard work of aligning to what needs to be done.

The bigger the change, the wider and deeper the Failure Gap grows. Changes might be necessitated by a new purpose, a significant strategy shift, or in response to a disruption in the market.

Whatever the reason, everyone AGREES that changes must happen. Then, nothing changes. The same decisions, investments, and priorities are maintained across the organization. The result? The desired transformation gets sucked into the Failure Gap.

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Why Leaders Must Do The Hard Work of Alignment

It takes a courageous leader to go first and do the hard work of aligning to deliver on the promise of transformation. And no individual leader can do it alone – the most senior leaders in the organization must align and deliver together for success.

If it is so hard, why do it?

We see three main reasons to invest in the hard work of aligning leaders:

  1. Financial opportunities are realized more quickly as cohesive and informed investments are made, and existing efforts are redirected to be inside the guardrails for alignment.
  2. The energy of employees is unified toward the desired end state. Nothing is more frustrating to employees than hearing one thing and seeing something completely different from leaders.
  3. Customer engagement and marketplace support for the transformation will increase significantly if customers and external stakeholders see leaders actively aligning their behaviors, decisions, language, and commitments to the transformation goals.

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

Moving a team to alignment is a powerful leadership skill. It helps to:

  • Reduce circular conversations about what should be done
  • Accelerate momentum for transformation
  • Create urgency and action on strategy
  • Make it visible when priorities aren’t being resourced

If a leadership team is going to succeed at transforming the company, delivering on strategic priorities, and moving confidently toward the future, aligning horizontally to new ways of working
together is non-negotiable.

The Space Between

Do you want to see how aligned your team feels to your shared goals? Do The Space Between exercise with them, and ask them to share where they hear a lot of agreement and not much alignment.

Download our free worksheet and explore what alignment might sound like with your own team.

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5 Steps to Move Toward Alignment

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 leaders to do the hard work of starting with themselves to move to alignment. Five actions 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 the 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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Alignment and Allyship in The Workplace

Diversity and Inclusion work is an area that many people agree with, but many people find it hard to align to. Many leaders in organizations can step into the role of being an ally as a first step in committing to D&I work.

Aligning to being an ally takes hard work, and it starts with understanding some of the concerns people have about the term and the position. It means accepting that you are going to get things wrong sometimes and that not everyone will welcome you as an ally. That can be confronting, and require you to rethink your intentions and desired outcomes.

Under-represented groups are not monolithic – they are made up of individuals with different beliefs, needs, desires, and perspectives. So you can’t expect the same responses from everyone when you step into an opportunity to be an ally. It can be complicated and messy, but don’t let that keep you in agreement and not in alignment.

Learn more about being an ally in the workplace and find some additional resources here.

Alignment Institute
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 leaders who have the courage to go first and take on the challenge of alignment will accelerate success.

At Karrikins Group we are on a mission to build a new breed of leaders who refuse to settle – the ones who aren’t OK with being just OK. We are committed to making HOW matter – building the clarity, commitment, and connection required to courageously bring your most ambitious strategies to life. 

Our premier leadership programs are grounded in the four dimensions of alignment: Clarity, Connection, Commitment, and Courage. As leaders explore how to work beyond agreement by creating alignment with their colleagues, each dimension comes into play to create the conditions for growth.  

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