As an executive leader, have you heard these comments or have similar statements ever parted your lips?
Most of us have had such reactions when others do not deliver our requests on time, or they deliver them in a way that fails to meet our expectations. Of course, we can be on the receiving side of such statements, because in the other person’s mind we do not manage to meet their expectations. When either side feels let down, it can challenge trust, and when trust deteriorates, productivity suffers, and unhealthy conflict tends to increases. When this occurs, we are left feeling frustrated and unfulfilled. So what to do?
In a small number of cases, when someone appears to be underperforming or performing out of sync with their responsibilities or our strategies, and priorities – it can speak to some level of incompetence. However, in a vast majority of cases, the cause stems from misalignment around what is most important, unspoken expectations, misunderstandings around some aspect of the commitment. By engaging the following principles of alignment, you can maximize value creation, increase innovation and deepen trust in your organization.
There is a movement for greater transparency in organizations and a good reason! Transparency requires executives to:
Remember, NO ONE in the world thinks the same way about any given opportunity or challenge. And Thank God, because the diversity of thought is the root of innovation. The point is, if you hold your expectations and standards for the fulfillment of those expectations privately – you must accept part of the blame for the lack of results or deliverables that run counter to your desires.
Expectations Are Not Commitments
Expectations, after all, are not commitments. One of the biggest areas of suffering I see present in my executive clients is an egocentric demand that the world aligns according to deeply and most times unconsciously held expectations. When you require people meet such strongly held expectations – you just create a lot of unnecessary angst.
When you lead others, you must open a dialogue and create a context that supports an alignment of understanding around the mission, priorities, measures of accomplishment of those priorities and how we will work together to achieve them. And in the end, you must create clear and mutually agreed upon commitments that forward what is most important. And even when you make clear commitments, it requires ongoing conversations to ensure there are no misunderstandings or changes that impact the outcomes you most desire to achieve.
The Flow of Alignment
There is also a flow building alignment and sound commitments. The discussions that must happen to follow this flow are as follows:
It is important to remember that when we decide on a set of the results, they are a belief or opinion about what we must create – they are not a fact. Certainly, a leader has the authority to declare the outcomes they desire, but they are more likely to accomplish these outcomes by building alignment and shared ownership of them. Therefore a true leader includes his team and other key stakeholders, as he considers the outcomes they most aspire to achieve.
In some cases, a conversation must happen to ensure there is agreement on the problem or opportunity. However, I have found in a high percentage of cases, a lot of unnecessary conflicts happen because we may share a view of the outcomes but do not share the same view of the problem or opportunity.
For example, we may all want to see an increase in sales, but the view of why we are not selling at the optimal level may be entirely different. When this is the case, we tend to talk over each other or dismiss others views because we see the problem differently.
Yes, taking the time to build alignment of understanding takes time. But in the end, these conversations for alignment, powerfully focuses the energy of the team on the results and their approaches to achieving them will become far more innovative.
Too many meetings end up being opinion ping pong! In other words, everyone is holding fast to their positions, rather than genuinely trying to understand the basis of each other’s views. It is important to remember, just because you seek to figure out what’s underneath an other’s point of view – does not mean you are giving up your own. And in most cases, when we listen more deeply we open up new possibilities for ourselves and others. As Steven Covey said many years ago – “seek to understand before expecting to be understood.“
How can we work together best, to reach this result? This question is powerful! And it is one that few teams ask themselves. When you take the time to explore this, you improve the quality of outcomes, and you begin to strengthen your collaboration over the long term.
Not much needs to be said here. Clear commitments have timelines, clarify roles and responsibilities, generate clear conditions of satisfaction, and ensure we understand who must declare satisfaction at the completion of the promise.
We must have conversations along the way to ensure we continue to build momentum as well as are dealing with any arising misunderstandings that are bound to emerge through the course of the project. This serves multiple purposes. It ensures we stay in sync, it builds a deeper understanding how we can be most effective in working together and people tend to feel closer together when they commit to consistent interactions that focus on achieving things together.
In my experience, the vast majority of drama and broken trust in organizations come from a lack of being explicit, living out of expectations, sloppiness in making clear commitments and not following the flow of alignment above. It is far easier to live in our expectations and be upset when people do not meet them. It is harder but more rewarding to engage in the necessary dialogue to ensure alignment. However, if you want to achieve a higher order of results and increase trust, it requires you to get over the resistance and do what works. Become a master of conversations that understands how to be explicit while deepening connection.
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