Have you ever read a book that you wish you would have written? The Work of Leaders: How Vision, Alignment and Execution Will Change the Way You Lead is one of those books for me. It was written in 2013 by a team of leadership assessment experts and researchers at Wiley. I love the way authors Straw, Scullard, Kukkonen and Davis boiled down and framed up the key tasks of organizational leaders into three overarching responsibilities: vision, alignment and execution.
Crafting an organizational vision involves imagining an improved future state that the group will work together to turn into reality. To create a vision, an effective leader must be open, prioritize the big picture, be bold and adventurous, test assumptions and implications, and seek counsel.
Crafting a vision is not just the top leader’s job. Leaders at all levels, working within the overall organizational vision, are also responsible for crafting a future focus and direction for their spheres of influence.
The leader doesn’t have to be the one to magically and independently create the organization’s vision. In fact, many of us have learned the hard way that involving others in a process of crafting a vision can lead not only to a better vision, but also to better alignment.
Building alignment is the work of getting everyone in the group to understand and commit to the vision. Gone are the days (if they ever really existed) when the visionary leader stands at the top of the mountain, barks orders and watches the organizational masses climb the hill.
To effectively build alignment, a leader must clearly express the vision and rationale in inspirational and compelling ways. At the same time, she must be empathetic, encouraging and receptive to others and their reactions and perspectives.
A very bright entrepreneurial leader I know is learning this the hard way as he brings new people into the organization and shares leadership. If he can’t build alignment around his vision, he will not be able to lead them in executing and achieving this vision.
Effective leaders champion execution; they help ensure conditions are met and work is completed to turn the vision into reality.
How many times have we seen great vision and strategic plans that are poorly or never executed? Great execution leverages the alignment of key stakeholders. And it requires the leader to drive actions, build momentum and provide a plan and structure that considers not only the work steps and tasks, but also the people aspects. Finally, the leader must address problems that arise and offer both constructive feedback and praise along the way.
Within these three leadership tasks – vision, alignment and execution – we all have our own strengths, preferences and needs for development. Yet all are critical to leading effectively. How might looking at your leadership responsibilities and abilities through the lenses of “vision, alignment and execution” change the way you lead?
Note: Thanks to Wiley and the authors for this book and also their companion assessment (Everything DiSC Work of Leaders). The Vision, Alignment and Execution framework is simple but powerful; it’s helped me and several of my clients.
Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. As a leadership consultant and executive coach, he helps executives and their teams improve their work as leaders in crafting visions, building alignment, championing execution and other important and impactful ways. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr. Sign up to receive his and his colleagues’ blog at Current.