Leadership often seems like an uphill battle. The problem is most leaders don’t know how to get people aligned behind a good idea. It can be practically impossible to get everyone on the same page, much less moving forward together. But, imagine if you were a leader who could? In her new book, The Art of Alignment, Patty Beach aims to help business leaders move projects, initiatives, strategies, and ultimately, the mission and vision forward. This step by step guide explains how to introduce new ideas and to get any group of any size to agree and commit. You’ll even learn how to get your team members back on track when things fall off the rails.
Drew Appelbaum: Hey listeners, my name is Drew Applebaum and I’m excited to be here today with Patty Beach, author of The Art of Alignment, A Practical Guide To Inclusive Leadership. Patty, thank you for joining, welcome to the Author Hour podcast.
Patty Beach: Thanks Drew, I’m excited about this.
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s kick this off, can you give us a rundown of your professional background?
Patty Beach: Sure, I am a leadership development consultant and I provide executive coaching, leadership training, and professional facilitation for leadership teams that are trying to make decisions and come together as a team. I’ve been doing this work for about 30 years, prior to being a coach and working as a geoscientist. I used to be an earth scientist and now I’m a social scientist, so there was a switch in my career back quite a while ago but for many years now, I’ve been coaching leaders, CEOs, and emerging leaders, all day every day.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, was there something that inspired you to write this book? Did you have an aha moment? Why was now the time to write it?
Patty Beach: Well, I have been using the facilitation technique to help leaders come to agreement, especially in situations where it’s sticky or politically sensitive or difficult, they would call me in as a facilitator to support them in making decisions. What my style is, whenever I’m working with leaders, is not just come in and facilitate, but actually to teach them a technique and then use it live so that later on, after I leave, they have that competency baked into the team and they’re able to work at a higher level. I’m never satisfied with just coming in and facilitating and leaving.
I developed this technique many years ago and then I started using it in coaching. One to one with leaders, I would help leaders learn how to bring teams together and create alignment. Alignment is one of those universal tools, it’s kind of like the basics of leadership, you can‘t get people in a room to get on the same page and come to agreement, take action together, you’re not really leading because, in the end, leadership is not about what you do, it’s getting other people to do things, and move toward a goal. This is basically the heart and soul of leadership.
I started writing the book actually several years ago, just to put it down on paper and to be able to share it with more leaders beyond the people who happen to be working with me personally. Also, to teach coaches how to use it, that might be working with their clients. But I have to say, right now, it’s such a timely thing because there is so much disruption going on, there’s new technology, there’s the social justice movement, and there are all these disruptions. So, leaders really need to learn how to quickly align and realign their people around these new pressures that they’re facing.
That feels really timely even though this is a universal skill that we need all the time, all day every day. In a way, it feels almost serendipitous that the book happens to be coming out in 2020 when this is one of the critical skills leaders need to have in order to get through the pandemic and reorganize their office and the constellation of how their different employees are working together.
Action Towards a Solution
Drew Appelbaum: Now, who is this book for? Is it strictly for business leaders or could this be for cultural leaders as well?
Patty Beach: Well, I wrote the book for business leaders because that’s primarily my market, most of the people that I work with are either leaders in business or they’re a nonprofit organization. Basically, you have that organizational structure of your senior leader, and then your mid-level management, and compound leaders at the bottom.
What this does is it teaches people how to work top-down, bottom-up, or across the organization, so it’s ideally suited to that. But the concept could be used for alignment with anybody, it could be used with sisters trying to decide what to do with grandma’s house, or it could be used for people trying to get their kids to do chores, or it could be used to plan your funeral with your family, so they understand what you’re wanting.
It could be used for any of those purposes. I really hope that it’s used for the purposes of the causes I care about like climate change. We see a lot of these things like climate change, social justice, poverty, hunger, these are ginormous issues, and we can all talk about the problem but there aren’t that many people talking about the solution and settling on a solution, and getting action towards a solution. This is a perfect vehicle to support people who are trying to move things together when they don’t have the power of authority over each other, such as you’re needing to get volunteers to do something or you’re on a board and you share power equally.
It’s useful really in any scenario. I like to say, now, what it does is you’re driving toward one goal, which is alignment, and it could be around anything–a strategic plan, a decision. It could be like I said, we’re going on vacation so you want alignment so that everyone agrees and feels good about it. That’s not a selling and telling proposition, that is a co-creative process where people are so involved in helping you take that idea to such a level of agreement that they feel jazzed about it, and fired up to do it. If one person walks out of the equation, it still happens, that’s alignment.
You have one goal, alignment, between two or more people that could be you and one other person, or it could be you and 2,000 people. How do you do that? In my book, we outline three principles, four steps, and five Cs. So it’s 1,2,3,4,5 and basically, it codifies, it demystifies how you get all these people in a room and get them to make whatever idea it is that you need to get agreement around stronger, better, and have it be co-owned by people so that they’re as jazzed about it as anybody in the room.
That’s basically the premise of the book. The other part of this book in addition to giving you a formula, what I call a memorable success formula so that once you learn it, it becomes almost like a road map that you use in your mind. Maybe you use it implicitly, kind of behind the scenes, nobody really knows you’re using it, or you could use it explicitly, you can put a big poster on the wall, and here are the four steps and what to do, so that everyone can follow that structure. It’s useful that way but it also includes tips on how to handle what happens when you’re trying to get people to come to agreement and they get kind of triggered by things.
I’m trying to get people to decide, for example, how we’re going to change the compensation structure and organization, and that can be a really hot topic. Anytime you bring people into that conversation, you need to create the right environment, the psychological safety, so that everyone is able to bring their voice in the room and become transparent. When it happens, then you can see where you have alignment, and where you have misalignment. As a leader, you need to be able to handle those different variables. The process supports that but additionally, the book has tips and advice for what to do with those invariably one or two people who kind of fall off the rails so to speak. They engage in disruptive behaviors that can prevent alignment, so it gives you some ideas about how to handle that.
The Four Steps of Alignment
Drew Appelbaum: Now, were there any learnings you had during the writing of the book? Maybe through research or the introspective journey?
Patty Beach: Yeah, as I was writing the book, as I said, primarily, I started this with the facilitated technique, the four steps of alignment, the five C’s for gathering feedback. I knew that this formula generally would work. You could get people here in continuous relationships and get them to talk about those series of contentions in a respectful manner so they could come to agreement.
But then when I started to translate that and ask how we can take this process and then use it for any leader to create alignment without a facilitator? I came to realize that one of the key issues is that leader’s egos can get attached to the idea they want to move forward. They’ve been so socialized that the way to get alignment is top-down command and control, old school.
You know, they were starting to break loose of the idea that it had to be my idea, but they get attached to their idea and when that attachment is there early in the process then it hampers the co-creator process for people to come in and help you improve it and make it better.
As I was writing the book, I was doing a lot more elaboration on that topic, about how you work with your own self, so that you’re prepared to work co-creatively and inclusively with people. Then it’s not about whether your idea is the one that comes out at the end, it’s about, that everything you did is about the goal that we’re trying to move toward, and how can we get an idea out there and engage this brain trust to make it better.
You have to have faith that if you put an idea out there and it is sound it will move forward. If it’s not sound enough, it will get better, or if it’s unsound, you’ll discover it’s unsound and you have to let go of it. So that you say, “Okay, great. Well, I’ve moved a bad idea off the table.”
That’s one of the outcomes that it’s hard to think about as a positive outcome because we’re so socialized that you only win by convincing other people your idea is the right idea. This book is basically kind of turning that part on its ear and saying no. As a leader, that’s not your job, your job is to set the goal, and vision about where you’re going, get those ideas out there, and then get people working co-creatively until it’s gone from divergent thinking to enough convergence that we can take clear action based on what we’ve been talking about. It’s a paradigm shift really from how a lot of organizations operate.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, what will readers not get from your book? Because you mentioned this early on.
Patty Beach: Yeah, I mean, they won’t get like how to always win. They’ll have their power of influence if their ideas take hold and they get momentum behind them, but they won’t learn how to make things happen in a New York minute. If you’re going to work inclusively, you’re going to bring diversity of opinions into the room, you have to be patient, you have to understand that it’s a co-creative process, it’s not a one-and-done, and most people that work in organizations know this.
They know that you get everybody in a room, it’s not likely they’re going to come to agreement that one time they’re in the room, they’re going to have to come back in the room. I think that it’s not going to give you that sort of silver bullet that takes your idea and it’s going to take hold in a big organization tomorrow, or create a whole organizational change in a shorter period of time.
But the premise of it really is not so much speed because when you are trying to get a lot of people to do things it is not usually a fast process. There is this African proverb that says if you want to go fast, go alone, and if you want to go far, go together. So, this is about going far together. It is not going to tell you how to force change into organizations. It is not going to give you something that will allow people to do things they’re not really wanting to do.
The Goat Rodeo
Drew Appelbaum: You use an interesting term in the book that I have never heard before, could you tell us what a goat rodeo means?
Patty Beach: Yeah, so a goat rodeo. I am sure everybody experiences this, you get into a meeting and somebody says, “Hey, how about this?” and then people just jump in and they talk randomly about it, “Oh it’s a good idea. That’s a bad idea. Well, we already talked about that, we made that decision a long time ago.” Things just bounce all over the place. So, I just imagine a goat running around in the arena.
A similar analogy is the pinball machine–you get an idea out there and everybody is batting around the pinball and then the balls fall down the hole and then where did they go? That is usually what happens in a meeting. Most of the time, meetings are not where decisions happen. It’s either the meeting before the meeting or the meeting after the meeting.
The actual meeting where decisions are supposed to happen, I mean half the time you are sitting in there and even when something is decided, people aren’t clear what got decided. So, they walk out of there more frustrated than when they came in, thinking, “Great, finally we’re going to make a decision.” But then that happens over and over and over again in organizations–decisions get kicked out further and further because you don’t have the right people in the room, or they are not talking about it in the right way and it is heavy in the room. We can’t really talk about that because there is an elephant in the room, which everyone is tiptoeing around.
This book gives you lots of practical tools and models, what I call memorable success formulas so that you can create the right environment to bring the right people in the room, and distribute the authority accordingly. Some people may be given a voice about what should happen, and other people may have a vote on what happens.
So not everybody gets a vote, in an inclusive process. We are putting as many people as possible, and how we do that efficiently and how we do that in a manner that allows people to tell the truth because there are just so many ways that people hide out. They sit on the sidelines, they nod their head. I saw you just nodding, it means nothing. It doesn’t mean yes, it doesn’t mean I agree, it doesn’t even mean I heard you. It is just what people do.
So how do you make visible what they are thinking in that room? You get those ideas out there because you want them. Everybody’s reaction, their opinions, what’s getting their heart beating faster because they are excited about it, you know you want that to be elaborated on. I always say that good leadership is about healthy deliberation on topics that matter. So how do you create that environment for healthy deliberation?
Drew Appelbaum: No matter how hard you try, I think you are going to run into people who take things off track, and you talk about them as disruptive behaviors. Can you tell us what some of these disruptive behaviors are and what to do about them?
Patty Beach: Yes, so first of all I like to say that these disruptive behaviors come from an unmet need. So, when people get into a room and they are going to make decisions, there is a lot at stake for them–their personal reputation, their credibility in the organization, they may have resources they have to give up. There is a lot that is going on under what is visible.
As a leader, you want to identify when people have an unmet need and instead of getting it met in a healthy manner by participating and bringing their voice in the room, they’ll try to get that need met in an unhealthy way. Examples of those disruptive behaviors are grandstanding–that’s where somebody dominates the conversation so that not all of the voices are being heard, or you might have the opposite, somebody who sits on the sidelines and they don’t say anything. You may think, “Oh great, we’ll get to learn it faster when they don’t talk.”
But actually, you don’t get to learn it faster because you have no idea what is going on with that person. It may not be considered a disruptive behavior because it doesn’t slow things down but in the end, it disrupts the process of alignment if you don’t have everyone transparently bringing their full selves into that conversation. Who knows if you have alignment?
What I always coach leaders to do is if you identify people who have these disruptive behaviors and how to handle it compassionately.
You don’t necessarily handle it in the room full of all the people because oftentimes that would embarrass the person. If you embarrass the person then good luck ever creating the psychological safety you need in the future. Not only for that person but for everyone else in the room.
Ideally, you would handle that offline, maybe inquire with the person. There are more specific tips in the book about what I call the top 10 disruptive behaviors that as a facilitator, I would deal with all the time. I would have people come to me and say, “Hey, so and so is doing this thing. Can you get him to stop?”
I learned all the tricks to do that. I put those in the book to help the leader with those situations when they show up.
When the Problem Is You
Drew Appelbaum: Now, towards the end of the book, you bring up a really interesting point that maybe you are the problem and you list some of the most common reactive behaviors that you might need to manage in yourself. Can you talk us through some potential toxic issues that you might have and not know about?
Patty Beach: I have identified that a lot of times I am coaching leaders and I see patterns where they say, “Well, nobody listens to me about this,” and you know they inquire about what’s going on. When I start to see a pattern there, I say, “Oh that is one of those things that comes out there. It’s something you are doing as a leader.” We try to help them identify and pinpoint it. An example of something that I have seen happen quite often is where leaders are so excited about something, they want to move it forward that they get way out in front.
They are going faster than the people that they are trying to lead, and they forget what they didn’t know. Let’s say I have studied a new software platform that I wanted to introduce to the organization and I am all excited about it. I spent hours and hours studying that software platform. I just know it is the most marvelous thing. Then as a leader, I am putting it out there as something for people to opt into or to agree with and saying we should adopt this.
But I am getting reticence from them. Well, you are getting reticence from them because this is the first time they have heard about it. They don’t understand it on a level you do. So, we have to sometimes walk backward and say, “Okay, what is it that they need to know?” How do you set context for them so that they’re in a place where they are caught up to you to make things happen?
Another one that I see very commonly is what I call the clueless manager syndrome. This is where, for example, I am trying to present something to a senior leader who is mean to me and I start feeling, “Well, they are not listening to me. They just don’t understand stuff.” Or maybe it’s people that are reporting to me and I think of the concept as the coolest thing and people won’t get it. Every time you have that attitude, you are not creating an environment where people are actually going to want to listen to you.
So, you have to respect people in order to help them understand what it is that they need to engage around. If you have that attitude of, “Oh my gosh, these people, they are just so difficult,” you have to really come back to what I call the Shiva Principle, which is one of the principles of alignment. We see, hear, and understand the value and appreciate the person. So, when you do that, when you put that Shiva environment, it creates the pathway to alignment.
But if I have disrespected you, if I sent you a signal even if I haven’t said it, inside I am thinking that you’re too stupid to get what I am talking about, it is almost impossible to align you. You are not going to want to come in and be a part of my equation now and that happens all the time. It’s just arrogance. A lot of times it’s because the leader that is trying to lead the alignment is insecure, and so they feel like if they act in a superior way people will adopt the idea. That factor works against them every time.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, you actually offer a lot of tools and resources on your website and you mention them as you go along in the book. Can you tell us what’s available and what readers can expect when they head over there?
Patty Beach: Yeah, so we have templates for running meetings. It might be an agenda if you wanted to do a meeting where you are gathering people to make a decision. So, it would be a sample agenda or an invitation you might send to people to do alignment, or a cheat sheet that has the four steps and the five C’s of alignment that is a one page, you can print it out and give to people as a handout.
We also have a list of these disruptive behaviors. That is something else that we can hand to people if we are starting to see people fall out of the pattern you are looking for, you can use this as a tool to say, “Hey, let’s make sure we don’t fall into any of these disruptive behaviors.” It is some information about how to show up in a healthy manner. So, we are developing tools all the time.
In fact, we are in the process right now of developing a software platform. We are calling it the Art of Alignment Online and what that will be is a wizard so that if you are leading alignment at a complex change process, you could put a proposal into this software, and then invite people to give you feedback and follow the four steps of alignment.
This software platform will make it a lot easier to automate some of the difficult things about getting people to come to an agreement because you could do some of the pieces offline in a virtual environment and not always have to convene everyone.
Drew Appelbaum: Now Patty, writing a book, especially like this one, which will help so many leaders and just make so many meetings so much more effective is no small feat. So, congratulations.
Patty Beach: Thank you.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, if readers could take away just one thing from the book, what would you want it to be?
Patty Beach: Yeah, I think the one thing that I want them to take away is that anyone can be a leader. If you have a vision or a dream of making something happen, it is possible to get people in a room, to get them to come to an agreement and the more people that you get to come to an agreement, the faster it will happen. So, the main thing I want them to do is to believe in themselves–to believe in the things they want to create.
If you have been thinking some days somebody should do X, maybe that somebody is you. Maybe you are the one who needs to do it to move it forward and if you have the right tools and the right resource and the right attitude then it is not that hard. It doesn’t have to be that hard. It is a lot about having faith in people.
Drew Appelbaum: Patty besides checking out the book, where can people find you?
Patty Beach: They can go to leadershipsmarts.com and also if they’d like to book some time with me, then go to pattybeach.com.
Drew Appelbaum: Absolutely. Patty, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Patty Beach: All right, thank you, Drew. I really appreciate it.