Why Aren’t We on the Same Page? The Core Elements of Alignment

(and what does Courage have to do with it?)

A Collaborative Thought Leadership series by Andy Scantland and Tim Wenzel

Vanishing Evil Management Initiative:

This is the second in our series of management articles. Our goal is to call out harmful management & leadership practices that are damaging productivity and relationships. And to empower you with alternatives that will lead to happier and more productive teams. Here is a link to the first in the series: Vanquishing Evil in Management

Consider the following scenario: Both the CEO of a fast-growing start-up and her newly hired Security Director are frustrated. The CEO recently hired the highly regarded Security Director to help manage risk within her organization. 

The CEO was so excited for the new addition because she’s been concerned that her company is at risk in lots of ways and hasn’t the bandwidth or expertise to deal with it. Now she has an expert on hand to deal with the security challenges so she can focus on the company’s growth initiatives.

The new Security Director was equally pumped. He’d started this new role in which he expected to have influence and deliver impact into the long-term success of the organization. He had a plan for exactly where he wanted to start and a big vision for making changes quickly.

Yet, today, both the CEO and the Security Leader are steaming through a low but consistent hum of frustration. What’s gone wrong?

The Security Leader expects direction: what areas take the highest priority? How many people and what kind of budget do we have to work with? Is the CEO’s preference to build from within or outsource this work?

The CEO expects an advisor on the business of security. Does she need to know what areas carry the most urgent risk? She doesn’t have a good handle on how to prioritize. And the budget question is wide open- she’s not sure if this is a $1000 or a $100,000 decision. What are the strategic outcomes that result in enterprise value? How does today’s investment set the stage for organizational maturity in the next half, next 3 years, etc? How can she determine what the right level of investment is? She’s waiting for her new Leader to take charge.

The result? Without expert guidance, the CEO will hold on to the status quo; without priorities to work from, the Security Director makes no clear contribution, the org is no safer and the CEO is frustrated. She’s getting near nada from the investment in her new, expensive hire. 

So, back to our situation between the CEO and Security Leader. What’s needed to avoid this mess? Two things: more leadership and a bit more courage.

The CEO needs to demonstrate leadership. Her job, in this case, is to express clearly and vividly what success looks like- what standard of quality she’s looking for and what outcome she’s seeking. She doesn’t need to be a security expert to communicate where her biggest concerns are, what keeps her up at night and what’s critical for customers, team members, and suppliers to feel safe in doing business.

Conveying the standards for success is a critical piece of leadership- this gives the team member the Purpose of his or her role. This provides the vision the person needs to stay resourceful and resilient. Importantly, this is the WHY of the work but not the HOW.  

When we give people a great vision for what is possible and essential, we unleash their capacity, their creativity, and their unique strengths.

So, in our example, the CEO’s role is to deliver a vivid and colorful vision of what the future holds and why the Security component is so darn valuable to achieving that vision.

The Security Director’s leadership shows up by proposing an Organizational roadmap that identifies what he sees as the company’s most critical risks and provides an iterative approach to managing them while ensuring the culture of the budding security organization blends into the culture of this fast-moving startup. This roadmap also addresses how today’s investment and lessons learned influence tomorrow’s maturity model and the KPIs which the business can monitor and discuss.

And the courage part? These two need to have a courageous conversation.

The CEO’s job is to express what the expectations are for the role, including the concept that she needs real-life applications of the Security work. And she needs to call forth the best from the Security Director- why he, in particular, was chosen, how he fits in the organization, and what the CEO believes he’s capable of. Finally, the CEO needs to be clear about how she wants the information delivered- how does she best receive information and recommendations. Finally, she needs to create a safe place for the Security Director to tell her the truth.

The Security Director shows some courage as well. He needs to state his vision, discuss the risks and his ideas for managing them - and then ask for and listen to feedback.  

This feedback shouldn’t be seen as negative, but as an opportunity to continue discussions until the business’ vision is reflected in the security organization. 

So, when we are struggling on alignment with our colleagues and teammates, ask yourself a couple of questions:

  1. Am I demonstrating all the leadership I can in this situation?
  2. Is there a truth I’m not sharing or is there a conversation I need to have?

In this context, the “Evil” is often in the assumptions and biases that we believe are true, but lack the courage to address and resolve. These conversations, if thoughtfully done, are not as intimidating as they seem, yet they set the foundation for a productive relationship.


Originally published at LinkedIn: Andy Scantland on June 17, 2020.

*Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay


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