Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The value of and quest for alignment

I walked around all day today with a smile from ear to ear because this morning I woke up more hopeful about our future than ever before. The afterglow of the election was shining brightly on people's faces everywhere I went - at work, on the subway, in the grocery store. Construction workers at ground zero, my co-workers, doormen of apartment buildings in my neighborhood. I'm getting emails from friends telling me how excited they are about our future. And that excitement is infectious. Obama will be the greatest President this nation has ever had. I believe. As Thomas Friedman said in his column today, "The Civil War is over. Let Reconstruction begin."

The critical activity that lies before Obama, and us, now is one of alignment. I thought a lot about the difficulty of achieving this state, especially among parties, factions, and classes that are sometimes so disparate with competing interests and values. I'm working on a project at work that is nearly at completion and just when I think I have alignment, something threatens to derail us and I have to gently and firmly coax that detail back into line. It is amazing how much daily effort and time alignment costs; it is an endless pursuit. 

So how will Obama get to alignment and how will we help him get us there? I've found that focusing on the finish line and getting others to place their focus there is most helpful. Playing pool helps.

An old boyfriend of mine was a very good pool player, and he taught me how to play. When I first met him, I wasn't very good. I always focused on my cue ball, not on the ball I was trying to hit. And without fail, I would miss my shot. What I needed to do was get my eyes in line with exactly where I needed to hit that prized ball to sink it, not on the ball right in front of me that I would hit with my cue stick. I needed to keep my eye on the prize in the distance- that ball that I couldn't quite get to directly. My game dramatically improved. 

The same strategy that works for pool can work for alignment. Get everyone looking toward the same goal, the same prize. And then you will find that they are less concerned that their desired road must be taken to reach that destination. As the leader, you choose the road that's leading the group to the common goal, and cast the players according to their strengths and curiosities. Alignment is possible, even in the most fragmented of circumstances, if we as leaders are committed to making that alignment priority number one, every day.     

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