“It’s challenging when leadership can’t even agree.” - Anonymous University Chancellor
Gaining leadership alignment in these times of rapid change and social rearrangement is so fundamental to institutional success that without it, it’s only a matter of time before institutional relevance is in the balance. And forget about institutional greatness.
To achieve something big – to solve a complex problem, or reach new levels of accomplishment, or exponentially broaden impact, or develop a game-changing innovation – requires a level of focus and clarity of Olympic proportions. Essential to this is alignment.
Alignment among individual leaders first, and then down through the organization and out into the community, whether local, national or global. This alignment is not about getting everyone to think the same, but rather to develop a view that encompasses myriad individual perspectives from which a grander vision is possible.
Without leadership alignment, organizations (and countries) are left to govern themselves from the bottom up, instead of enjoying the freedom of governing within a shared visionary framework. Without leadership alignment, communities are left to formulate their own (mis)understanding of the institution, if they bother thinking of it at all. Without leadership alignment, the leaders themselves are impeded in moving forward, fall short of achieving what is desired, and experience a diminished role of service.
The way in to leadership alignment – whether the team is reaching for a new business model, increased capacity, or innovative solutions to long-endured problems – is the leadership conversation. This is a simple idea: how people talk about their institution, their issues, and their world is the genesis of the results they achieve.
Even the greatest leadership teams get into troughs of habit in their conversations, in the way they frame issues and describe their worlds. And worse are the isolated silos of thinking and vernacular that foster so many illusory conflicts. Add to this the growing number, complexity and scope of issues facing leadership today – in our organizations, our communities and on our planet – coupled with the pace of change, and leadership is surely tested to deliver on its primary purpose: articulating a compelling vision.
For leadership to create and hold such a vision, here is what’s required:
A shared understanding of the world
A common language with which to discuss it
A broad view of what is possible
These are not insignificant goals; they are the foundation for brilliance.
And the only way to achieve these goals is through conversation. Not the quick and dirty repartee of the break room or text, not the functional email delivering edict or information, not certainly the soundbite or check list. The real kind. The kind of conversation that takes time, that wrestles with assumed meaning, surfaces unspoken values, considers new perspectives, that seeks more to learn than to persuade.
The kind of conversation that, when all is said and done, opens minds and creates accord.
When was the last time you treated yourself to a conversation such as this?