What makes the difference in truly powerful leaders? How do they attract and keep loyal, committed followers? Where does their strength of conviction come from and how do we tap into it?
I believe it comes from within each of us, through a state of being I call alignment. So, what do I really mean by alignment?
Aligned individuals simply love what they do, they are good at it, and what they do and why they do it are almost always tied to a purpose greater than themselves. Once an individual is truly aligned around their purpose – and thus, they are indeed living their life on purpose – this is when and where true power is revealed and released. Their mind, body, emotions, and spirit are in harmony. There is simply no substitute for total alignment and congruency within a person or leader.
Think about it … when we see a person who truly walks their talk, whose life is a full and total manifestation of their beliefs, and whose profession is one that fully capitalizes and optimizes their gifts and talents – we see a person who is in their groove. One doesn't have to look too far for examples – they are the ones that would do their work for free and that come to work with a spring in their step. They are the ones that have a passion for their work, an intense desire to make a difference, and are centered and confident in the manner in which they choose to let this unfold. Their personal and professional goals are aligned and they remain committed to doing whatever it takes to fulfill their purpose.
It is my belief that this 'quest for alignment', like all things, is a journey not a destination. So, what are a few steps we can take to start moving toward greater alignment and authenticity of 'who we really are' as individual leaders? In this article, I am offering a few baby steps to help us start down the path of revealing who we really are and what we really want.
- Observe when we are really 'in the zone.' You know what I mean: when we are fulfilled, happy, and energized, when our heart is singing, we are in the zone and 'in the flow.' Pay attention to these moments. They are whispers revealing the 'real me'. We need to get to know this person; and give ourselves freedom to be who we are. Let all things flow from there. This can be such a revealing process. Pay attention to that little voice inside. It may come as a question in the middle of the night, or as crystal clear as a voice in the shower. The voice is our soul – it is our core and it is the pure essence of what and who we are meant to be. Heed it.
- Create time for solitude. There is nothing like quiet time to shut out the noise of our day to day lives. Often, when we are searching for 'something to fill a void,' we surround ourselves with people, things, and activities. We over schedule and over program our lives. This 'busyness' clutters the air waves. Stop. Be at home. Feed the birds. Read a novel. Watch a movie. Turn off the car radio. Be with YOU … just like with others, the more time we spend with ourselves, the better we will get to know ourselves. I have also found that keeping a journal is amazingly enlightening. This may be a stretch for some who are reading this article – that is ok. Even if you only write down only one or two thoughts you have – when you have them – it is amazing how they will grow and multiply in your mind's eye. It is a great way to reflect on your day, the lessons learned, the observations of yourself and others. It is like living it 'over' in some ways – which is incredibly powerful.
- Stay connected. This may appear contradictory to being alone; yet, it is not. We are all connected. We are all part of the same energy of this world. To really define ourselves and get to know ourselves, we do this in relation to others. As the cliché says: “if you really want to know yourself and all your idiosyncrasies – be in a relationship!” How
true this is. So, yes, we need both solitude and community to truly enlarge and embrace our sense of self. By staying present in the moment, some of our greatest teachers will be revealed. As the Buddhist proverb says, 'When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.' I have found this can be through the random encounters with taxi drivers, bartenders, passengers on subways, and even our children. Yet, we have to be present to win! This means we must put down our iPhones and Blackberries, and be awake to the happenings around us. Try it the next time you are in an airport terminal – it may surprise you.
- Trust your gut and have courage to follow it. Choices are the right and left turns on our lives' highway. If we truly listen to our 'gut' and our intuition they seldom lead us astray. Our challenge is to have the courage to listen to our gut. We often rationalize, justify, and 'sell' ourselves on what we think we need to do. Sure, there is a balance – this is called judgment. However, I will offer that in my life every single time I have not listened to my inner voice – my intuition – the decision has been far less than optimal for supporting my true and authentic self. Let go of expectations of others for your life. Many times we may have a 'hit' to do or be something other than what we are presently – and we fight it (or just flat out ignore it) because it is not what we think we should be doing. The trappings of our world are intoxicating. We often get 'drunk' on these. What I believe, however, is if we truly follow our heart's desire – we will be successful. All the other trappings will take care of themselves.
- Finally, be willing to play hard and possibly fall hard. Whether this is engaging in a yoga class, a lacrosse match or taking a monthly art class, we need to 'do stuff' we really love. This is our essence. We need to go for it with all the gusto we can muster. If we stumble or fall – that's ok. We are living life without fear of failure. Whew, what a concept. If only we could truly embrace the cliché: 'what would you do if you knew you could not fail' in every moment of every day.
We have the choice to grasp all the possibility within ourselves, and then act in a disciplined, concentrated and focused way. Whether we are leaders in our organizations, mothers and fathers raising our children, or simply making our way in the world, as Hawthorne offers: “No one man can, for any considerable time, wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which is the true one.” Once we find 'the true one face,' we reveal and embrace our fullest potential with simply 'the real me.' Therein lies the power of the authentic and fully aligned self.
So, is alignment the secret to authentic power? I actually believe authenticity and alignment are synonymous. I also believe there is undeniable power in the authentic congruency of mind, body, heart, and spirit. So, yes, I believe becoming 'aligned' with your core soul, and allowing this to manifest into the world through your choices, is the secret to living your life with powerful purpose and purposeful power.
Photo credit: iStockphoto
About the author: Kristin Kaufman formed Alignment, Inc. to help individuals, teams and leaders increase their overall contribution, bottom line effectiveness and personal fulfillment. Using a well-rounded ‘end to end’ alignment process, she helps some of the world’s leading organizations achieve measurable results and develop and inspire leadership capacity for ongoing transformation. Kristin’s first book, Is This Seat Taken?, centered on her global experiences seeding her journey toward alignment, was published in 2011 to national acclaim. Kristin is on Twitter as @KristinKaufman.
A company’s greatest asset is its human capital.
In the book, In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies, Tom Peters shares the merits of taking interest in the office water cooler discussions and caring what employees really think about the company and their work. When executives actually listen to their employees, the difference in the company’s culture, respect for each other and performance is measurably different.
When the management doesn’t care, you can sense the difference in the company when you walk through the door. I have worked for companies where the employees felt no more important than the pawn in a chess game. They knew it, their managers knew it, and the company knew it.
If you really do value your employees – great! But how is this reflected in your workforce? I am not referring to health care benefits, 401(k) packages, stock purchase plans, bell-curve salary hikes or even the niceties denoted in quarterly and annual reports. These are simply the tickets to entry in today’s world. I am talking about the stuff that really drives employee loyalty and over-the-top performance.
Be genuinely interested.
The best leaders I have worked for took an interest in my life. Not just what I could do for them or the company, though that was critical for my job. But as an individual intent on doing the best job I could for them with dreams of my own. They did what they could to help me succeed and never asked me to do more than what they would ask of themselves. And in return – I worked like a Trojan for them and remain loyal to them to this day. I behaved as if I was their greatest asset. This approach costs no money, no increase in salary or stock options. Yet, the investment of sincere interest pays huge dividends. The next time you are with one of your team members, ask them: What is the greatest hurdle you are facing right now? And then be quiet, let them talk and LISTEN.
At the end of the day, people choose to work for people.
Whether it is a first level individual contributor working for a first line manager or a senior vice president working for the CEO, they are all individual people. Each person has his or her own individual needs, insecurities, challenges and dreams. Creating an environment where people are truly valued as the company’s greatest asset starts with the individual. That individual will set the tone for his or her team, organization or even a large Fortune 50 company.
To know if you’re fostering a culture where people are the company’s greatest asset, ask yourself the following questions or bring them up at the next HR staff meeting:
- Are our employees truly our greatest asset? If so, do we treat them as such?
- What are we doing to bring out the best in our employees and equally the best for our companies?
- Are our intentions fully aligned to support the individuals who make up our company?
When you can honestly answer, address, and align yourself and your company to those questions, you will have found the secret to getting the most for and from your greatest asset – and deliver the greatest value to your organization.
In today’s world most everyone has engaged in 360 feedback processes, bi-directional feedback, and opinion surveys of one sort or another in order to gauge leadership strengths, 360-degree job performance, what’s working/what’s not working, and overall customer satisfaction. Companies put employees through this rigor typically on an annual basis, with the end-goal being to learn and then improve the individual and/or collective team performance.
The response companies get back from the evaluated team members varies radically. Some are downright opposed to the process and even angry that they have to participate – scratching it up as a waste of time, and others embrace it as a way to improve and more quickly climb the professional ladder.
When managed properly, feedback is a gift and can be an indispensable tool in helping employees become fully aligned – as individuals, professionals, teams, and overall organizations.
HR professionals and company leaders should keep the following guidelines in mind when designing and implementing feedback programs:
There is value in knowing what others think about us, and there is equal value in staying open to that feedback.
Sometimes the truth hurts. Often times our first reaction is complete and utter disbelief – followed quickly thereafter with rejection that the source of the feedback simply ‘doesn’t get it.’ Some never get past this denial stage – and choose to stay as they are, discounting any and all suggestions for change because ‘they are who they are and others are just going to have to get over it.’ However, ignoring feedback hurts no one more than ourselves. Feedback, when received openly without filters, can be a powerful compass for change. And can be an opportunity for further personal growth when taken to heart.
Systemic integration of feedback processes, versus annual report cards, is imperative.
One mistake individuals and companies make is making feedback processes and/or surveys monumental, once-a-year events. The power and associated benefits of feedback occurs when it is integrated into a day-in, day-out expectation. Thoughtful, planned opportunities for the entire team to share with each and every member what they would like to see ‘more of’ and ‘less of’ from each other is far more powerful than an annual assessment. Systemic and expected, routine feedback becomes a regular part of the environment. Team dynamics become more collaborative, and open communication will foster honesty on a frequent and unsolicited basis.
The value lies in taking and integrating what you learn.
Ultimately, the trick is for employees to take the feedback and integrate it into their daily routines – expediently, consciously, and thoughtfully. If people don’t listen, hear, and apply what they heard, feedback surveys will be a waste of time, which does more harm than good on multiple fronts. When people do respond with action – publicly and overtly – they gain credibility, personally and collectively. And that improvement validates the organization’s feedback processes and practices with each performance improvement.
It is a well regarded fact that the most ‘self aware’ individuals become the highest performers and contributors in the workplace and in life. Being aware is absolutely the key to growth, whether this awareness is within the individual, within the team, within the company or beyond.
HR leaders who can get team members to see and respond to personal and performance feedback will be well on the way to total organizational alignment — within individuals and between teams, organizations, and extended alliances. This alignment will always result in higher performance.
So, yes, feedback really is a gift.
Photo credit iStockphoto
About the author: Kristin Kaufman is founder of Alignment, Inc.™, formed in 2007 to help individuals, corporations, boards of directors and non-profits find alignment within themselves and their organizations. A prolific writer, Kristin’s first book, Is This Seat Taken?, centers on her global experiences seeding her journey toward alignment. The book is scheduled for release in November 2011. Kristin is on Twitter as @KristinKaufman.