A group of talented individuals does not necessarily translate into a high-performing team or company. High performance requires skillful leadership. After all, it is the leaders who create the environment in which talent will either flourish or languish.
There is a quote by Carlos Ghosn, CEO, Nissan, Renault, & the Renault-Nissan Alliance that reflects this point about effective leadership quite nicely:
“Good is somebody who delivered and allowed the company to overcome obstacles. Great is somebody who leads his company to achievements and performance and value that nobody was expecting it had.”
If you’re committed to the kind of great performance Carlos Ghosn describes, there are 3 Key Elements you must design into the fabric of your culture: alignment, engagement, and accountability.
On a very pragmatic level this means most individuals in your organization can be counted on to consistently operate in an aligned, engaged and accountable manner. This is, of course, easy to say, but not always easy to accomplish.
The danger in using these terms in any article about leadership is that these words have unfortunately become buzzwords. You may have heard them so much you have become numb to their real meaning or think you should already have them mastered because everyone knows these are “the fundamentals”.
Furthermore, just because you know what they mean conceptually doesn’t mean the “how to” is obvious or easy, despite what the all the “buzzing” might indicate.
Here’s a look at what each of these elements means in practice.
Alignment means bringing people choice
Alignment requires that as a leader you have a very clear vision and chosen focus. It also requires the vision and focus is understood by those you lead. However, this is only the first step in achieving true alignment.
Alignment is not a function of what you declare; it’s a function of what each team member chooses to get behind.
Groups don’t align with a vision, a plan, or even a decision; individuals do. Heads nodding in agreement, energizing conversations about the future your vision and focus makes possible, and satisfying work sessions planning what you will do are a start. The most important step in achieving alignment is bringing people to choice.
True alignment requires individuals to choose to get behind the vision, taking ownership as though it were their vision. Alignment is not just a concept. It is a very personal choice that sometimes must be made more than once over time. Ultimately, the only way to know if any individual team member is truly aligned is to observe their conversations and their actions over time.
Engagement syncs personal and organizational visions
Engagement is a natural outcome of alignment. Any individual who is not aligned with the vision or where you have chosen to focus your efforts is unlikely to be engaged.
Sustained engagement, however, also requires attention to the individual’s vision for their future as well. One of your roles as a leader is to support every individual in ensuring their personal vision and aspirations are aligned in some way with the organization’s vision. This does not mean there must be a perfect match, but rather that in serving the organization’s vision, the individual’s vision for themselves is served as well.
Engagement is a function of both the individual choosing to align behind the vision of an organization and ensuring the individual’s vision for themselves is served by the organization.
Accountability means honoring commitments
Accountability is one of the most often misused terms in business. It is all too often defined in terms of blame and consequences. As such it causes people to bristle at the mere mention of the word. Yet accountability is fundamental to any healthy organization, at least as I will define it here.
Accountability is the consistency with which your actions and results match your commitments. Said another way, to be accountable, means to be committed to honoring your word. This includes commitments as big as the results a company promises to their shareholders or the service level they promise to their customers. It also applies to the promises individuals make to each other in the course of conducting their day-to-day business.
I say “committed to” because there is not a person alive who has does everything they say they will do, when they will do it. We make mistakes, we forget, we are thrown off course by our commitments. We are, after all, human. Yet someone who is committed to honoring their word takes full responsibility for the implications and consequences when they do not or see they cannot.
Someone who is accountable does not need to be threatened or punished to make sure they are accountable in the future. They need the partnership of those around them who lead them and work with them to support them in delivering on their commitments and dealing effectively with the circumstances that will inevitably get in the way.
Look for patterns in conversation, action and behavior
The culture of any organization can be observed through the patterns of conversation, action and behavior. Looking through the lenses of alignment, engagement and accountability, what patterns do you observe?
Your answer to this question can guide you in what you can do now to improve performance.