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Leadership Reframe – Aiming Toward Three Outcomes, Together

By Rick Martin, Senior Consultant, Organization & Leadership Effectiveness, The Ohio State University


Rick Martin
Senior Consultant
Organization & Leadership Effectiveness
The Ohio State University

Increasingly, managers at all levels are being challenged to adapt to an ever-changing environment or become irrelevant. Things change – whether from societal or market forces, or from shifting priorities. Whatever your title is, it probably doesn’t include the word leader or leadership, yet leading is what’s called for – and it’s likely that leading is what you are doing.

During 20 years of working with leaders in non-profits, manufacturing, real estate, banking, and institutions of higher education, I’ve noticed that successful managers and leaders get things done in a wide variety of ways. Yet the essence of what they are doing consistently involves three elements: setting or facilitating direction, gaining alignment, and garnering commitment (DAC).

Direction – Effective leaders create direction – an outcome to work toward, a goal, a vision – something that guides day-to-day decisions. You can assess how well you are doing at this by asking people if they know the direction you’re heading as an organization or unit. You can also ask them to tell you, in their own words, what you’re aiming for, or what the vision is. People may not agree with the direction but, if it’s clear, they will agree on what it is and you’ll have a pretty good sense of whether you’ve created enough clarity regarding direction.

Alignment – Alignment is about the coordination and organization of the work in your unit or institution. Are there processes that produce results? Is work and information systematized and orderly? How consistent is the formal communication of your organization? These questions help you determine the degree of alignment.

Commitment – Essentially, commitment is the willingness of your employees to find their own benefit within the collective, organizational interests. Commitment is expressed by prioritizing one thing over another. “I’m committed to working out” generally means I will make time for that to the exclusion of some other activities. Within an organization, commitment is visible when people willingly and proactively work toward a collective goal and go outside their comfort zone to complete something.

How is this framework helpful in looking at leadership?

  1. These three guideposts allow leadership to be talked about in virtually any cultural or industry environment. Leadership styles and models often have to be “matched” to the culture of an organization, but within this framework, leadership can be described and worked towards in any cultural context.
  2. It is objective. So often when we talk about leaders or leadership, it is personal and personalized, and not in a good way. By focusing on outcomes, this framework helps people focus on what is important in organizational contexts – the outcomes. Whether you’re running a for-profit company, a small-not-for-profit organization, a school, agency or neighborhood organization, focusing on what you’re trying to accomplish is critical. By focusing on direction, alignment, and commitment as outcomes, we take the focus off of likes, dislikes, and personalities and put it on what makes a positive difference.
  3. It takes the pressure off of those in “leadership positions” without removing the responsibility they have to lead. Whatever the state of affairs in your organization, engaging people to strengthen DAC moves the needle. Anyone can ask another what they think the direction is (goal, mission, vision, etc.) and work with that other person to create more clarity between them. If they are clearer afterwards, then leadership has been strengthened. Similarly with alignment – any two or three people (or departments or divisions) can work to create better coordination among and between groups, strengthen linkages in processes, and redesign workflow to increase alignment.
  4. You know whether leadership is occurring, even when the situation is in flux – or especially when the situation is in flux. Change seems to be a constant. With other ways of looking at leadership, it can be difficult to know what way of leading is best in a dynamic environment. With this framework you only need to keep your eye on the outcomes, DAC, adjust what you and others are doing, and see what it produces. It allows you to experiment and gives you a metric for success. In the end, it is a very pragmatic framework.

One anecdote to illustrate: I was working with a leader last year and there was a pretty high degree of unrest in his organization. Several units had been brought together and it seemed no one was happy. He was brought in to lead this group. Yikes. But through our conversations about the future that were guiding, but not prescriptive, he gained clarity on his own way of creating DAC. He reorganized the unit, aligning like work with like work, and staffing it with managers who were well suited to the new roles. He explained in detail what he was doing and why he was doing it. He got the support of his boss. He talked about the new structure in departmental meetings and in one-on-ones. Additionally, he sought ways to increase morale.

Was it an overnight success? No. But over the course of about 18 months, much of the upset and unrest was calmed; people had a clearer sense of where the department was headed and both work and decisions flowed more quickly. Some people were beginning to step up and volunteer for various assignments rather than having to be asked. The situation didn’t exactly produce kumbaya moments, but that wasn’t the goal. His aim was to increase cohesion and productivity, and by applying this framework to my work with him, he was able to do that. I didn’t have to focus on changing his style or getting his staff to be different. We only had to focus on what was happening with direction, alignment, and commitment.

Rick Martin has been in organization development and management consulting for nearly 20 years. He’s worked with large global companies, small non-profit organizations, universities and individuals, helping them plan and lead change. Early in his career, Rick spent 10 years in accounting and finance, including roles as a general accountant, financial analyst, public auditor and CFO. Rick lives in Columbus Ohio and is a senior consultant at Ohio State University helping leaders transition into the institution, plan and execute change, and increase the effectiveness of their teams. In addition to leadership and change, Rick advises leaders on communications and messaging, organizational design and effectiveness, and team development.

Rick Martin, Senior Consultant, Organization & Leadership Effectiveness, The Ohio State University

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