Leadership is direction, alignment, and commitment

Can you describe what good leadership looks like? What does it mean for leadership to “happen”? And are you doing it?

We say “leadership matters”. But what does “leadership” mean? Leadership is often described either as a shopping list of a manager’s traits or not described at all.

Neither is helpful.

There’s no one-size-fits-all set of behaviours that defines leadership. Nor is there an archetypal leader.

But it turns out there are three outcomes that arise from good leadership:

Here’s what they mean, what they look like, and why they matter.

Direction: a shared vision

Direction is the shared vision of your team, group, or organisation. When everyone has the same understanding of what they’re trying to achieve, that’s direction.

Yet a goal by itself isn’t enough. It needs a why. Why does this goal matter? Why is it worthwhile? You may have clarity of direction, and a well-coordinated team working towards that direction. But you’ll miss the commitment that comes from a team working on something that matters. Answering while helps you recruit missionaries, not mercenaries.

As important as where you’re going is where you’re not. Too many organisations pull their teams this way and that. Good direction provides a clear sense of priority. When you’re not around to make the trade-off decisions, the shared vision provides a framework for others.

It’s one thing to have a stated direction. It’s another for your team to agree on it. Shared vision can’t be “your” vision alone. To your team, it needs to become “our” vision, a vision they understand, support, and believe in.

Do others struggle to state your goal? If you ask each employee what the vision is, would you get as many answers? That’s a sign of unclear direction. Strong direction should be clear at all levels.

Without direction, there can be no alignment and no commitment. Direction enables the right people to work together on the right things. It provides a clear goal for your team to work towards without needing your oversight. And direction inspires. A shared vision allows for being part of something greater than yourself.

Alignment: the right people working together on the right things

Alignment is the coordination and integration of different parts of the work in service of the goal. The right people are working on the right things. It’s what leads to realising the shared vision.

By creating direction, you define what success is. By creating alignment, you establish the enabling conditions for that success. And how do you do that? Bring the right people with the right skills. Define the right tasks, projects, and programmes needed to achieve your goals. Then, cohesively integrate those different aspects of work. You create connections, not silos.

Clear roles and responsibilities matter for alignment. Not only do you know what’s needed from you, you know what to expect from others. There’s no stepping on toes, or work falling through the cracks. With role clarity comes greater trust in others. You can focus on your work knowing that you’re working on what you need to be.

We accomplish more together than we can apart. That’s the secret of organisations. And it’s why alignment is the second key outcome of leadership. Without alignment, there’s no commitment. A team working in different directions on different projects is not a team. Success comes from interdependence. When you know that others are working towards the same goal, do you want to be the one to let them down? And when people are working together, it’s easier to deliver the third outcome: commitment.

Commitment: the passion to do the work, and the trust that others will do the same

Commitment is the passion of the group to achieve their vision, where team success is prioritised above individual success.

Getting the easy things done is easy. Getting the hard things done is hard. This is why leaders need to create a passion for achieving the shared vision. Without commitment, the best you’ll get is compliance: people performing tasks to the minimum standard and no more. With commitment, people go above and beyond to achieve something great.

If alignment is the tangible feeling of “working together well”, commitment is its intangible complement. The team becomes part of the reason to do the work. When others rely on you, you go above and beyond. You feel compelled to do the same when you see others giving their all. Commitment becomes a virtuous cycle.

Commitment means a shift from individual success to team success. In a high-commitment team, the question isn’t “What’s in it for me?”. People don’t ask what the vision can do for them — they ask what they can do for the vision.

If the vision is important, chances are it’s not easy, either. Achieving it takes time and effort. And things won’t always go to plan. This is where commitment matters. When change is necessary, when challenges arise, that’s when you need to rely on the passion of your people. Leadership means setting a direction, enabling your team, and inspiring them to rally towards the goal.

No two leaders are alike. But good leadership results in the same outcomes: direction, alignment, and commitment.

Without direction, there’s nothing to align around.

Without alignment, there’s no focus on what matters.

Without commitment, there’s no effort when it’s needed the most.

With all three, you can lead your team to achieve something great.

© Braden Moore.RSS