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The Battle for Alignment

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – Dwight Eisenhower

I think of this quote often. I live it daily and so do my partners and clients. Not only do I consult to leadership in a variety of different organizations, but I also lead within organizations in which I’m employed. I have made this choice, as opposed to being an independent consultant, because I think there is great value in the insight gained from being a leader in a complex organization when you consult to leaders within complex organizations.

Without fail, there is a time each week when this quote comes to mind. Although I’m someone who enjoys spontaneous and evolving conversations, I prepare in advance as much as I can. I do this through reading, talking to colleagues and in general, collecting and organizing a variety of points of view so that I feel I understand the landscape – as I think it is going to be – in an upcoming “battle.” In this instance, I liken gaining alignment between people to a battle as sometimes it can feel that way. I find this to be the essential requirement of leadership, to bring others together for the sake of getting something done in a certain timeframe. Underlying this is energy engagement, which I feel is what a leader “really” does, but that is a topic for another day.

Even after the alignment is created, which can be a battle in and of itself, the plans that are created don’t work. People change their minds, other priorities emerge, technology doesn’t work, one person is left off an email, or perhaps organizational priorities shift. Clausewitz once opined, “Everything in war is very simple. But the simplest thing is difficult.” The same is true in getting things done in organizations.

What do I recommend to clients and what have I learned to do myself?

  • Be clear about and “in love” with the effect you want to achieve.
  • Maintain emotional distance and do not be “in love” with a specific way to achieve it. It is OK to shift and do things differently even if the decision has been made to do it a certain way. Consciouly chose the right path, not the default path.
  • Take your own emotional pulse – if you fall “out of love” with what you’re trying to achieve, others will too and maybe your intuition is trying to tell you something. What is shifting your focus?
  • Be prepared for wildcards and the unpredictable, something unplanned will happen. Knowing this can take the emotional edge off when things go astray.
  • Be open to new information to build or shift your vision

The battle for alignment is an ongoing process that requires renewal and revisiting as the twists and turns of execution unfold. Eisenhower had it right, planning is necessary while plans go astray. And they always will. How we adjust to it is what organizational life is all about.

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