Softer aspects of leadership have always attracted multiple narratives – most of those narratives have been based on the western worldview and have originated from those cradles of thought. I am sure there is great value in any narrative but when we start reposing our faith in only one of them, almost ignoring and hence rejecting the possibility of the relevance of alternative narratives, is when we allow our pursuit of inquiry to become singular and hence incomplete.
Thankfully things are changing. Leadership alignment is actually a part of the larger issue of alignment in not only all constituents of the organization but also at all levels of the organization. The reason I use these two frames separately is because the task of creating aligned workforce is distinct in its nature and prescriptions at the top and at the bottom – and between the top and the bottom of organizations. The dysfunctionalities causing disarray at the top emerge from insecurities and ego, while the dysfunctionalities between the top and the bottom emerge from the loss of credibility of the top.
The greatest alignment emerges when there is no difference between the leader and the led — they become one voice
The chaos at the top leading to lack of alignment has many hues – it begins with the struggle for primacy between the functional heads; so the CFO makes the financial goals as the primary goal, or the Sales Head making the sales goals as the primary goal or the HR Head making Peoples goal as the primary goal. The fissures that get created when these goals vie for primacy soon become fault lines – that get formed at the top but soon trickle down the slope. The task of holding all these goals together into the crucible of a broad spectrum performance mindset is a rather tall ask. The exact opposite risk to this is ‘too much friendship’ at the top – a state where no one challenges each other’s comfort and status quo. Kabeer writes at one instance about all of us being passengers on a boat – a metaphor that the top of organizations must take inspiration from if they would prefer to have alignment in its truest sense amongst themselves.
Kabeer hamara koi naahi, hum kahoo ke nahi,
Paar pahunche naav jyon, milke bichure jahi.
(No one is ours and we are no one to others; like passengers on a boat, we shall go our own ways (if we reach our destination))
Everyone shall reach the destination if the boat reaches the destination – no one reaches anywhere if the boat does not reach ashore. The alignment at the top must heed to this wisdom. A fractured top is not only deeply damaging but also hopelessly visible to the rank and file.
The second kind of disarray is between the top and the bottom – irrespective of the function. This usually happens after a prolonged corrosion of credibility. Over a period of time, the patterns of leadership behavior like partiality, inconsistency, self-preservation, blame fixing, credit mongering, oscillating and sometimes downright incompetence so on and so forth leads to the bottom of the pyramid completely disillusioned. This lack of alignment is perhaps not even visible to the leadership who remain baffled as to why all strategic initiatives remain non-starters. This is like the wheels of the chariot start questioning the intent of the horses who they are supposed to follow – only in this case, the wheels have a mind of their own.
In organizations, we must always remind ourselves of the difference between ‘Enrolment’ and ‘Conscription’ – the former is voluntary while the latter is by force
Finally, great alignment emerges from authenticity. In organizations we must always remind ourselves of the difference between ‘Enrolment’ and ‘Conscription’ – the former is voluntary while the latter is by force. True alignment is voluntary while we only resist conscription of any kind. There is a greater probability of widespread enrolment if the person espousing the cause is perceived as being genuine and authentic. Unfortunately, it is difficult to learn authenticity. The popular narrative of management literature dumbs down all attributes of leadership by presenting it as a ‘ten step guide’ – and consumers of leadership literature start to believe that it can be ‘read and implemented’ in the manner of other capabilities. It is the surest way of killing authenticity in the leader. The rank and file ‘feels like following a leader’ when they know that they are getting what they are seeing. The followership and the alignment to the cause is then intuitive and deeply felt. The greatest alignment emerges when there is no difference between the leader and the led. They become one voice. As Kabeer says of the state of complete alignment –
Mai Laaga us ek so, ek bhaya sab mahi
Sab mera main saban ka, tahan doosra nahi
(As I become one with the larger purpose, I become the whole and the whole becomes me)