Leadership and Alignment

[This article is the fourth of a four part series by Misha Galperin. You can find the previous three here: Heroic LeadershipLeading with Force, Leading for Innovation.]

by Misha Galperin

In the language of leadership, there are certain words we encounter time and again: vision, innovation, change, decisiveness, etc. One word that we hear about in a secondary role is alignment. Alignment sounds like something you do for your car tires. It’s hardly inspiring. It just means that everything is working in a state of balance.

But the fact is that aligning goals and people is one of the hardest, trickiest aspects of leadership. I was once speaking with a consultant from McKinsey who told me that the most critical aspects of effecting organizational change are leadership, intensity, focus and alignment. In my work, without alignment, lay leaders and professionals may be at odds with each other, goals may contradict each other and board development may lack clarity.

A car without proper wheel alignment will never drive straight. Take your hands off the wheel, and it will veer in one direction or another but it will not stay the course you intended. So although alignment is not as sexy as vision, it, in fact, describes one of the missing pieces of Jewish organizational life. We are often uncoordinated in our efforts at social change with institutions fighting battles within or competing with other institutions for scarce resources even though the organizations aim at similar goals. Sometimes we lose adherents and members because the political battles are too monumental, and the stakes are too low.

I am reminded of an evening two years ago, my last annual meeting at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, where I served as the CEO for nine special years. A former president who was my first president on the job, Michael Gelman, took the stage and gave me a framed piece of paper with five lines on it. I have kept it proudly on my desk since.

The scrap paper was one he had saved from our first year of working together. On it, he had outlined goals that the two of us set for my new job and his presidency. He was an excellent president and he knew a lot about alignment. That evening, he celebrated it with me and showed me just how important it is not only to set goals but to make sure that goals are aligned with each other. The two of us had to put that list down together in order to make it work. It was the spinal cord of a partnership and no doubt, it explains in many ways why we are still good friends today.

Michael, thank you for teaching me one of the most important leadership values along the way. You can have charisma and talk about vision, but if you want to make words into realities you need to align your objectives and your human resources with each other and with your vision. And when you can do that successfully, you won’t ever veer off the road.

Misha Galperin is president and chief executive officer of Jewish Agency International Development. His forthcoming book “Reimagining Leadership in Jewish Organizations: Ten Practical Lessons to Help You Implement Change and Achieve Your Goals”, published by Jewish Lights, will be available July 19th.