Words are only cheap when we make them cheap.
It’s no wonder concepts like “alignment” “empowerment” and “accountability” are considered faded clichés in most organizations.
This is because leaders have abused these terms for so long by pronouncing them left, right and center at their convenience to present themselves as modern and enlightened leaders only to repeatedly not live up to their declarations and to the promise of these powerful leadership concepts.
Many senior executives say they want to build greater trust with their team, but they are unwilling to invest the time to bring their team together in order to build that trust.
Many leaders say they want to empower their people, but when their leaders attempt to give them critical feedback, they become irritated and angry, which suppresses any space for authentic communication.
Many leaders say they want to engage their people in the mission of the company, but when their people give them advice or bring up ideas for improving things, they ignore these inputs because they feel ‘they know best’.
Alignment and ownership, or ‘command-and-control’. They are mutually exclusive. You can’t play both games. You have to choose one or the other.
Leaders who think that alignment means everyone agreeing with their direction, views and management style and wholeheartedly following them and doing what they say with ownership and passion are simply naïve, disconnected and/or delusional.
If you want to build an environment of genuine ownership and alignment it comes with the price of people being encouraged and allowed to think for themselves, express their views and get the job done with their own voice and in their own way.
Empowerment is not a cliché or slogan from a management textbook, it is a powerful leadership paradigm and approach that is not for the faint-hearted.
If you are so convinced that you know best, you have all the answers, you are smarter than everyone in your team or you are simply too afraid of getting feedback and criticism from your people an empowered and aligned team environment is not for you.
If you behave like a dictator you will trade-off people’s ownership, empowerment and commitment. If you don’t listen, you will surround yourself with people who don’t speak.
The problem is that most leaders know how to play the corporate game and say the right slogans. Some actually drink their own Kool-Aid and believe their own stories. They believe that they are committed to promoting empowerment and alignment around them.
If you want to know the truth, find a way to ask your people. Either directly or through a trusted third party. If you are reluctant to do that you are probably not open to building an empowered and aligned team environment. However, if you are eager to do so, you probably are committed to building an open, honest and authentic team environment.
None of this is set in stone. If you recognize that you haven’t been focused on, or effective at building an environment of empowerment, trust and communication in your team you could always shift gears and start doing so.
However, to succeed you must first be honest with yourself and probably with others too, about the type of leader you have been and who you really want to be in the future. You cannot pretend to be committed to building an environment of empowerment, trust, and communication. Your inauthenticity would be clearly recognized. Some leaders really believe in the command-and-control approach. They have achieved good results with that and they don’t have a desire to change. If you are one of those leaders, be honest about that.
However, if you are committed to leading through empowerment, trust, and communication, declare that, acknowledge your gaps and identify your opportunities and start developing the necessary skills to become really good at it.