The Next Great Undoing of Leaders

Droves of CEOs and leaders of teams are about to be undone by a single challenge.

For some, this will happen quickly. Others will be the proverbial “boiling frog.”

This challenge is by no means new. It’s one of the most cited culprits for failed execution of strategies, plans, and ideas. But the challenge is being amplified in real-time by leaders everywhere who are charging headfirst into it without solid plans for what to do about it.

It’s reminiscent of the trend in the physical design of our workplaces that dominated the last decade (although it’s more significant than this). Tear down those walls, get rid of cubicles, the future is open office spaces! It’s ideal for collaboration! It’s the way the younger generation prefers to work!

Only in hindsight—often years after the fact—did companies begin to realize that these “modern workspaces” are a poor environment for fostering deep work, flow states, and the most critical stages of creativity and innovation. The ideal environment for those is a distraction-free space that’s conducive to solitary effort and intense focus. Collaboration is important, but it’s only a part of the picture. The balance tipped too far—albeit gradually in this case—and companies paid the price, usually without realizing it.

Fast-forward to today: to say the pandemic accelerated the trend toward hybrid and remote workforces would be quite the understatement. A day doesn’t go by when there isn’t a headline about another company that’s reducing its office space or jettisoning it entirely. Many businesses believe they have already proven they can operate effectively in this paradigm. After all, they navigated the pandemic.

But like any rapidly adopted shift to the way we work, the longer-term consequences aren’t going to reveal themselves until enough time passes. There will be several of these consequences, but we won’t go into all of them just yet. In this article, I’m highlighting one that I’m confident will undo many powerhouses:

Systemic team misalignment.

The fastest way to slow down a team’s progress is to have people rowing in different directions. The surest way to sink the boat altogether is to have misalignment on fundamental things—mission, values, strategy, etc.

Here’s the issue. The pace of change is accelerating in nearly every industry, often to staggering levels. Navigating change requires team and organizational agility. Agility requires tight alignment across teams and functions.

And tight alignment requires highly effective collaboration, relationship-building, and communication—three things that are being dealt the curveball of this rapid shift toward hybrid or fully remote workforces.

Don’t think jumping from the old way to the new way overnight is going to lead to huge consequences, many of which won’t reveal themselves for years?

What if I told you that from this point forward, all marriages will be lived out over Zoom with the occasional co-location? Think we wouldn’t experience some interesting surprises over time?

To be clear, I am not arguing against this shift. There are clear benefits to it, and I’m glad to see it happening.

But the reality I’m highlighting is that, if you are a leader, you better be prepared for the inevitability of consequences, some of which you won’t foresee. And unless your organization grew up this way, this shift is going to impact your ability to build and maintain team and organizational alignment in different ways.

So, you better start building the systems for identifying misalignment (real and perceived), surfacing issues, and addressing those gaps now.

Otherwise, you risk it becoming your undoing. Because the leaders—and the companies—that have the tightest degree of alignment will have a significant, sustainable advantage over you.

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