BOOK SUMMARIES

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Book:  The Art of Alignment

Author:  Art Johnson

Purchase:  Print | eBook | Audiobook

Citation:  Johnson, A. (2021). The art of alignment : a data-driven approach to lead aligned organizations. Issaquah, WA: Made for Success Publishing.

Three Big Takeaways:
 
  1. Despite numerous examples of the positive power of empowerment, many leaders are not comfortable empowering employees. They limit their employees freedom to think and make decisions, effectively killing the benefit potential of real empowerment. Moreover, these leaders invest more time and effort in micromanaging, which negatively impacts morale and inhibits creativity. “It doesn't make sense to hire smart people, then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” (pg. 112)
     

  2. A leader who defers to and values input from subordinates uplifts and empowers them to speak up. Typically, this action charges the employee with increased energy for their role in an organization. Those involved in generating ideas will be accountable for the success of those ideas. They will be more likely to put forth high-performance efforts in implementing their ideas, as they will feel responsible for the outcome. They own it. (pg. 166)
     

  3. When the right people with the right skills are in the right roles, the best answers will come from those people who are closest to the work that must be done. While it can feel good to have answers for people, today’s best leaders understand the value in helping others come up with their own answers. Instead of being reactive with answers, great leaders draw out responses from others by saying, “You know, I am not really sure, what do you think?” When others contribute ideas that become part of the solution, there is an inherent sense of empowerment and accountability that drives performance levels up. (pg. 244)

 

Other Key Ideas:​
 

It's essential that leaders share who they are and what they stand for. Being an open book when it comes to personal background, the experience the leader brings to the role, and their passion for excellence will go far. Leaders of aligned organizations need to let the team members see their human sides. Great leaders cannot just be names on the organizational chart of the company. (pg. 22)

When you invest time and effort in getting to know others, it shows that you care. As individuals let their guards down, they will offer genuine feedback. In this type of culture, there is more calculated risk-taking, which often leads to more favorable outcomes. Once leaders receive the right input, they can take the steps necessary to get the right output from the team. That's how you create a meaningful working relationship between leaders and teams. (pg. 25)

When leaders visit a shop floor to speak with individuals rather than sending for them, it says to the individuals, “I understand how important your job is. I don't want to interrupt your work.” When that same leader notices and picks up some trash, they demonstrate attention to detail and a desire to care about the work environment. This type of behavior demonstrates to everyone around them that no one is above taking action and moving the organization in the direction it needs to go. (pg. 64)

Notice is taken when leaders are notoriously late to meetings. Such actions, whether done consciously or unconsciously, are disrespectful of the other attendees. Those actions send a message that the leader's time is more important than everyone else's. They may also send a message that the meeting is not important. This contributes to lower morale and a reduction of trust from those most impacted by what the meetings are to cover. (pg. 75)

Leaders can have a significant impact on accountability simply by opening up the floor and listening to their teams. Be willing to hold yourself accountable. It can be daunting to put yourself in a position of receiving constructive feedback or criticism, but being open and humble is a high-level, emotionally intelligent state that will serve you well. (pg. 106)

Empowerment includes everything that enhances the capacity of employees to make good decisions and take positive actions that lead to desirable outcomes, without necessarily going to others for permission. Empowerment goes a long ways toward eliminating bottlenecks in implementing strategic plans. Frequent conversations between leaders, managers, and employers are critical to the evolution of empowerment. Every time managers meet with employees, the goal should be that the employees leave the meeting feeling empowered within their roles. (pg. 109)

The whole idea of empowerment is for leaders to push the decision-making down to those closest to the problem. When the right people are hired for positions within the company, they should not require heavy oversight. Once they've been trained and given the proper tools to be successful, they should be empowered to make decisions around the results expected of them. (pg. 116)

Aligned organizations actively seek out and share best practices throughout the organization. They encourage all employees - from the leadership down - to look outside the organization for better ways to do their work. They maintain a learning mindset and are okay with admitting, “We don't have all the answers.” (pg. 137)

Few direct reports or employees will speak up against the leader’s opinions unless the leader creates an environment in which such feedback is not only acceptable, but welcome. This is how good leaders create opportunities to become great leaders – by opening up topics of discussion to the broader organization and taking advantage of the collective wisdom. (pg. 164)

The goal of leadership is to build a great team, not demonstrate superior knowledge. Instead of answering every question with a “best guess” based on experience, leaders are willing to say, “I’m not really sure. What do you think?” … even if they do know the answer. The leader should rely on the smarts of others who may be closer to the issue at hand and have a deeper knowledge of the problems and potential solutions. (pg. 164)

If the signs of employee disengagement are missed for any period of time, it’s the leader’s fault. Period. Or, if the signs are noted, yet not addressed, this is the fault of the leadership in allowing it to continue. (pg. 219)

The worst scenario in terms of employment issues is the employee who quits but does not leave. These employees have checked out mentally and emotionally. The challenge for leaders is to identify who these individuals are and quickly decide whether or not they can be turned around. If there’s no way to re-engage them, leaders must help them to find something else to do outside the organization (termination). It rarely happens that someone who performs at a low level all of a sudden changes direction and becomes the fantastic employee everyone wants on their team. (pg. 222)

The willingness of employees to tolerate the autocratic leader has diminished. In general, society has instilled in today’s workers that they have value, and that value should be appreciated. Autocratic leaders tend not to consider how the work environment impacts the performance levels of individuals. (pg. 242)

Part of the responsibility of an effective leader is to keep themselves out of the job of making decisions on anything beyond mission and strategy. Clear messaging and empowerment allows leaders to be more strategic, and the implementation is done by the teams and the individuals. The best leaders drive decision making down through the organization in order to get faster and better decisions. Leaders need to encourage innovation from those closest to the actions that are being required. (pg. 243)