Friday, November 6, 2009

An Analogy of Leader/Follower Alignment

This is inspired by John P. Kotter, who said in the Harvard Business Review that leaders create vision and set direction while managers deal with complexities. With that in mind, here is an analogy of the importance of alignment between leaders in your organization and their followers.

Think of your favorite automobile. The wheels each have independent suspension so that they can better deal with rough surfaces that they may be driving over. Specifically, and those of you who are more mechanically inclined can help me out, when a wheel with independent suspension is driven over a bump, the independent suspension helps reduce the impact of that bump to the other wheels on the car. However, all four wheels are still tied together. These wheels represent your team. They each have a specific identity and personality but for best performance, they are somehow tied together.

The driver of the car represents the leader (foreman, project manager, President, CEO). The driver is determining where the car is going and communicates that to the wheels by turning the steering wheel. If the wheels are out of alignment, what happens when the driver wants to go straight? The car pulls to a different direction. This can happen when even one wheel is out of alignment. The driver then has to exert more energy to counteract the mis-alignment and must continue to exert that force for the duration of the trip. Sound familiar?

How efficient will a mis-aligned vehicle be when compared to a properly aligned vehicle? What will the fuel and maintenance cost be of a vehicle that is allowed to continue to be mis-aligned versus a car that is constantly adjusted for proper alignment? Think about tires, shocks, bearings, tie-rods, etc. Which provides the smoother drive? What about the physical impact on the driver?

Now, put this in terms of your organization. Are you aligned?

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