Magazine Article | July 12, 2012

To Align Senior Leaders, Find a Common Thread

Source: Life Science Leader

By Dennis Goin

What will it take to unite my senior team around a new strategy? That’s a question I’ve heard countless executives ask as they begin leading their organization down a new path, because they know that change takes much more than any one individual’s efforts. And the answer I give is simple: find a common thread.

Before a leader embarks on an innovative course or seeks to transform the organization, it is essential for senior team members to be clear about the opportunity ahead of them and enthusiastic about their role in helping to achieve it. Without that clarity and without that sense of urgency, change is bound to be hampered by hasty, haphazard, and misguided activity.

To be successful, new approaches require focus. They require commitment. They require alignment. To get there, I typically encourage leaders to take these four steps: 

Gather. Convene senior team members and collect input from all of them about how they view the business, what they believe the company’s key strengths and weaknesses are, and where they see — and hope to see — the organization in the future.

Credit. In order to create an open atmosphere where team members feel comfortable sharing their candid views on the organization, credit each individual’s belief system. Explain there are not right or wrong answers, simply diverse perspectives — all of which are crucial to arriving at a winning strategy for the organization.

Explore. Display the feedback gathered from senior leaders, and search for common themes. Do not be fazed if they seem hard to come by; more often than not, there will be little initial agreement among team members. Each individual has their own responsibilities, goals, and job-specific priorities, all of which color their vision for the organization. Still, words and phrases like “growth,” “employee involvement,” and “acceleration” may appear repeatedly and can help reveal certain widespread aspirations — the common threads that will help unite the group.

Align. With the common thread established and shaped around people’s hopes, each senior team member will begin to see how their unique skills, expertise, and function fit like puzzle pieces within the larger strategy. They will gain a sense of personal ownership of the new initiative, a stake in the game, not feeling as if they “have to” take on additional responsibilities, but that they “want to” help move the organization in a new and exciting direction. This is the significance of alignment.

A unified, motivated senior team is an essential ingredient in any campaign to quickly and effectively implement new strategy. When employees at other levels of an organization sense their leaders are aligned, they move toward them, eager to help drive the new approach forward. It is the leader’s job to focus those efforts. They can do so with one simple tool: the common thread.

Dennis Goin is Executive Vice President, Engagements, at Kotter International, a firm that helps leaders accelerate strategy implementation in their organizations. He can be reached at