Leadership: How to Gain Alignment in Your Team

Last week, I talked about Unity versus Uniformity. For the sake of brevity, let’s recap the three levels of unity:

  • Acceptance
  • Agreement
  • Alignment

As a leader, alignment is the goal. Even if there is dissent, achieving alignment for the sake of the team is paramount. In his This is Your Life podcast, Michael Hyatt talked about five actionable steps leaders can take to get the alignment for which they are looking.

I’ve known my fair share of police administrators. Some of them are/were leaders and some are/were managers. There is a distinct difference between the two. Taking these steps that Hyatt recommends into a police culture with a clear rank structure with egos and politics intertwined is a challenge and it will be the brave leader that has more concern for his/her people than for him/herself that takes them to heart and tries to carry them out.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume we are talking about the Chief or Sheriff in this particular instance. Imagine a leadership meeting in which the Chief is meeting with his top staff. (It would be incumbent upon those staffers (captains and lieutenants) to take these steps to the men/women they supervise and repeat the process.)

  1. Discuss the three levels of unity with your team. This looks like nothing more than defining what is listed above in the bullet points. As the leader of an agency, acceptance and agreement are too low a standard and a recipe for low morale and a muddled vision, if not leading to out-and-out defiance.
  2. Clearly articulate your vision, strategy, or program. As the Powers That Be, it is your job to say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t tell Capt. Bill one thing and Capt. Jill something different. Be clear. Be consistent. Making your subordinates guess your true meaning is a game no one wins and can only serve to weaken your leadership, be it directly or through the slow degradation of your staff.
  3. Create an environment that is safe for dissent. Here is where the rubber meets the road in police culture. We aren’t real super at allowing dissent. It isn’t really in our DNA. Most of the men and women that make up the administration started out in an Academy just like me. The concept of “do as you are told” is beaten into you from day one. The problem is that’s a great perspective when dealing with a domestic detail or a traffic stop or in high risk ops or combat scenarios; however, it sucks when it comes time to poll your people about the direction you want to take the agency. Sure, you’re the top dog, but that doesn’t mean the people who make up your team don’t have valid points/opinions that can serve to improve your agency. If you want cohesion and alignment, you have to allow people a voice without comment or derision.
  4. Take time to consider your decision. The choice is yours to make. Weighing your options and considering differing opinions, be they of dissent or simply a shift in perspective, is important. We aren’t talking about making quick decisions in the field where life/death is on the line. We are talking about bigger policy issues that don’t require immediate action. Don’t rush into things without clear guidance. [Tweet “Proverbs 15:22 “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.””]
  5. Announce your decision and then ask for alignment. Reconvene your team of administrators and give them the news. Let them know their opinions are valuable and each was considered deeply in your decision-making. Go around the room and simply ask if they can align with your decision. You aren’t asking for consensus or agreement, but alignment. Folks can disagree, but still commit to the decision for the good of the agency.  This is what Michael Hyatt said in his hypothetical situation:

Here’s what that means. It means you’re with me. You’re committed to creating this outcome. I’m not just asking for your mental assent; I’m asking for the engagement of your whole being in creating this outcome. It means when we walk out of this room, if we’re challenged, if somebody thinks differently, we’re aligned. We have each other’s backs. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with it, but we have one another’s backs.

I can think of many occasions in which decisions were handed down to not only be met with grumbling from the front-line troops, but from their supervisors and their supervisor’s supervisor. That team is uniform…not unified.

Create unity in your team and you will see them follow you to Hell and back. It takes time, effort, consistency and authenticity. You can’t manufacture the unity or the alignment I’ve been talking about. It has to be genuine.

And so do you.

Question: Are you part of a unified team? How can you tell? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Feature image courtesy of Flickr and Dave Conner.