Leaders—Feel Like You’re Rowing Alone? Alignment Might Be the Problem

Paddle for white water raftingAs a leader, have you ever felt as if you were rowing upstream alone while your team watched from the bank, wondering what you were doing?  Have you ever felt as if you were the only one carrying a sense of urgency to get something done?  I’ve experienced this as a leader and I’ve also heard similar stories from leaders we’ve coached.

A leader’s responsibility is to achieve desired results through people.  It works best with the collective efforts of the team and with everyone rowing in the same direction.

But many times managers and their people are not aligned on goals.  For example, we conducted a survey in a leadership class, asking leaders “How well does your organization perform alignment conversations?”  Out of 450 responses, 59 percent selected “Needs improvement” and 20 percent selected “What alignment conversations?”  For these leaders, there was a lot of rowing upstream.

When you have a rowing upstream moment as a leader, what can you do? There are many possibilities. Unfortunately, none of them involves throwing a mild tantrum—even though that would probably feel good in the short term!

No, the proper response is to take a deep breath (trust me, it helps) and examine your alignment behavior.  Here are three specific areas to focus on:

  • Review the goals you have set with each of your direct reports. Are these goals aligned with the bigger goals of your group?  Are they prioritized? What needs to be adjusted?
  • Meet with your direct reports to discuss and reset where needed. It could be as simple as a thirty minute check-in with the focus on aligning direct reports’ daily priorities with the priorities of the department.  I have experienced that many people tend to focus on unimportant, simple tasks vs. important, more complex tasks.  What is needed to connect to department priorities?  What direction and support is needed to get the important tasks completed?
  • Recognize and praise progress. When guiding a direct report, leaders can be quick to point out what needs to change—but finding and pointing out what is positive and working builds confidence and commitment. Praise says, “I’m noticing the good work you’re doing and it’s important to our operation.”

A Common Direction

Checking for alignment and resetting goals where necessary may seem like common sense, but experience tells us it is not common practice. Take a minute to check in with your team and get everyone in the boat. Now everyone will be rowing in unison instead of watching from the banks.

And when other people see your team glide by, if you listen closely, chances are you’ll hear them saying, “Wow, you’re getting things done!  You’re making changes around here!  Thank you for leading!”

About the Author

Joni WicklineJoni Wickline is Vice President, Professional Services with The Ken Blanchard Companies. You can read Wickline’s posts as a part of Coaching Tuesday here at Blanchard LeaderChat for ideas, research, and inspirations from the world of executive coaching.

3 thoughts on “Leaders—Feel Like You’re Rowing Alone? Alignment Might Be the Problem

  1. Joni, this is a key view that many leaders and others miss by exclusively focusing on one-on-one discussions. I missed on the opposite side when I was a Professor and leader of a 34-person academic research laboratory. I was good at setting alignment goals for the total research direction but missed out on the one-on-one meetings. We did have many informal one-on-ones via my walking around leadership style. However, the alignment you talk about may have been the secret of our success. We maintained a very flat organization so the alignment focus with the total group fit well, although I did not realize it at the time. Your blog was a great aha moment for me. Thanks

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