The following is a guest piece by Marlene Chism.
There are as many definitions for leadership as there are companies that have leaders, yet at the core, leadership is about alignment. When we hear the word alignment, we think “walking the talk” or acting from integrity. We have all had the experience of observing a leader who doesn’t “walk his talk.” There an incongruity, an imbalance, or lack of agreement in one or more area.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition of alignment is to arrange things so that they form a line or are in proper position: to change something so that it agrees with or matches something else.
Working in and living in alignment is difficult because alignment requires you to make decisions and take actions that are in agreement with many goals, ideas and beliefs, some of which may be in conflict.
The Personal and Professional Must Align
It is erroneous to believe that a leader can lead effectively if the corporate mission and goals do not align with his or her own personal goals. In fact, leaders leave companies when their personal values clash with the corporate values. In “No-Drama Leadership”, I offer many examples of misalignment and the potential risks companies face if they do not understand how important it is to understand the blending of personal and professional alignment.
It was misaligned values caused Bob Funk, to leave the company where he had worked for the last seventeen years. “I would have worked there for the rest of my life. The owner was a fine man with strong principles. When he passed away, his son took over the company, and the culture changed,” he said.
The new owner’s values clashed so much with Bob’s he had no viable choice but to leave and start his own company, Express Employment Professionals. Speaking of his decision to leave his former employer to start his own company, Bob said, “The new owner, the president’s son, was an accountant by trade so the financial statements were the most important to him. What he didn’t realize is that when you’re in business, it’s all about relationships, and good relationships build good financial statements.”
When you do something that is against your values, you are out of internal alignment. When you make a decision that does not match the mission and values stated on the company website, then you are out of alignment in your leadership. Enlightened leaders know how to see the red flags that indicate misalignment both personally and professionally.
Signs of Misalignment
The signs of misalignment is easy to spot in politics, business or sports where we are the spectators and not the performers. For example, John Edwards was at one time a top contender for the office of U.S. president until the public discovered he fathered a child with one of his campaign workers.
The late Bernie Madoff received the Congressional Medal of Honor for “unusual valor” in bringing hope to thousands. The world held him and his family in high esteem until it was discovered he had tricked investors by paying them their own money rather than profits.
Lance Armstrong was considered one of the greatest athletes of all time until he finally admitted to taking performance-enhancement drugs to win races. All of these examples show lapses in moral judgment.
Misalignment happens because when the difficult choice is presented, values and mission are thrown away for ease, comfort, prestige, or profits.
Assessing Your Organization and Leadership
We often miss the signs when it comes to assessing our own organization. How do we look inward to recognize the signs of misalignment within our own organization, company or department? When actions and decisions do not agree with what is posted on the website and on the marketing materials, there is evidence of misalignment.
Always go back to the mission, vision, and values stated. Because values live in the invisible realm of ideals, we tend to discount the importance of how behaviors and language manifest to either align or misalign with what we say we value.
On the individual leadership level we often we miss the signs of misalignment until it is too late. This is because we do not understand that personal alignment must always come before aligning with a corporate mission, vision and values. Always. The first step is to declare your values. The second step is to become the living example of those declared values.
If you say you value trust, then you must keep your commitments to stay aligned with that value. If you say you value kindness, then every time you are rude you are out of alignment with the value of kindness.
If you say you value safety, then every time you consciously put yourself at risk, you are out of alignment with the value of safety. When you do something that is against your values, you are out of internal alignment. So how do you know when you are out of alignment?
Assessing Personal Alignment
Your own discomfort or discontent—that inner knowledge that something is off—can alert you to a lack of personal alignment. It’s common to believe the conflict is due to another person, situation, or circumstance. For example, I often hear high level leaders complaining about their employees. It may be a performance issue or a behavioral issue.
But, when I question the executive I find that he or she has never addressed the problem because they don’t know how to have a difficult conversation. The misalignment belongs to the leader, yet the leader uses blame instead of looking inward to see how their own leadership contributes to the problems.
The same is true for employees. Employees blame their boss instead of taking responsibility for helping to create the kind of workplace they want. It’s easy to complain about the company, the employees, the economy, or the weather. The enlightened perspective is to look inside to see what is out of alignment.
Sometimes discomfort is a sign to speak up. At other times the discontent is a sign to move on. Sometimes the discomfort means you are not telling yourself the truth, or you have set unrealistic expectations. At other times, the discomfort indicates you are not living your values. To be fully aligned, you need to learn how to listen to your inner voice, to interpret your emotional landscape.
Whether in your organization or in your leadership role where you find misalignment, are only two ways to realign: Tell yourself the truth about the real mission, vision and values and change them to match what you are doing, or course-correct to get back into harmony with the original vision.
Alignment is as much of an inside game as it is an outside result. Alignment is more than what you do; alignment is about who you are.