Clarity, Alignment, and Empowerment:Leadership Skills in the Age of AI

Clarity, Alignment, and Empowerment:Leadership Skills in the Age of AI

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Provide clarity, alignment, and empowerment in your team meetings.

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“Do you have the engagement survey results?” I asked my new employee, who had just joined the team a few weeks ago, over Slack. He promptly slacked back PDFs containing the raw data extracted from the survey. I found myself puzzled. Why hadn’t he incorporated the results into our standard slide deck, analyzed the comments, synthesized them into themes, and presented them as bullet points in preparation for our upcoming team meeting? Then it hit me – I hadn’t explicitly communicated my expectations to him. Moreover, he didn’t even have direct access to the survey results; he had to reach out to another colleague for help.

These kinds of interactions occur more frequently than any of us leading teams care to admit. We toss tasks into Slack without outlining the overarching goal, the desired outcome, the timeline, or our intentions for the information provided. The lack of clarity is evident, but so is the absence of alignment and empowerment. Without a shared understanding of our objectives, my new leader was also not empowered to take decisive action. Worse, he was disempowered. I was in full-on frenzied leadership mode, quickly pulling together the results so that we would be ready to share with the larger team later that day. The irony that we were sharing engagement survey results and teeing up a discussion on how to work more effectively as a team was not lost on me.

Clarity, alignment, and empowerment are the three core components we are teaching our leaders to lead change more effectively. While not novel concepts, they have become more important today since hybrid work, dispersed teams, new technologies, and the pace of change are the system in which we are now all working. Leading with clarity, alignment, and empowerment is essential for navigating this evolving environment effectively.

These complexities heighten the challenge of ensuring team clarity regarding collaborative tasks and individual accountabilities. Every day presents opportunities for leaders to either clarify or confuse their teams, either empowering or disempowering them in the process and, ultimately, strengthening or weakening the organizational culture.

Change leadership is a role that everyone plays, from individual contributors to leaders with large, globally dispersed teams. Individual contributors are often the ones who are pushing hardest for clarity since they are the ones who crave it and need it most.

Here are three things to remember as you lead change effectively with more clarity, alignment, and empowerment with your teams, colleagues, and managers.

1. Strategic planning is an ongoing process: Establishing clarity on yearly objectives, associated projects, tasks, and ownership can be both burdensome and empowering. As we approach mid-February, our team is still refining this clarity, especially with the recent addition of new members. When asked about the timeline for completing these discussions, I explained that the reality is, well, never. While our strategy and company objectives remain constant, we consistently need to reassess priorities and ensure clarity on commitments and roles each of us plays. We’ve also agreed as a team to rigorously reevaluate our workload when new major initiatives arise, either by reallocating resources or adjusting expectations.

A mentor once advised me that effective leadership entails a balance between working “on” the business and working “in” the business. Working “on” the business means continually examining our strategy, and priorities, refining systems, and optimizing collaboration. Working “in” the business is about doing the work. It’s taking the next steps on a project plan, answering questions, and unblocking decisions. With new AI technologies, a lot of the work “in” our business is shifting. With projections suggesting that up to 30% of current work hours in the US could be automated by 2030, leaders must prompt their teams to reimagine their approach to tasks. By leveraging generative AI technologies to handle repetitive tasks, employees can redirect their efforts toward more creative and strategic endeavors. It also means a more rigorous commitment to ensuring that what we originally said we were working “in” continues to be aligned with what we are working “on”.

2. Briefing Documents are a tool for achieving clarity: My team and I now advocate using a briefing document for every major project. This document serves to clarify collective assumptions, the desired future state, company and functional objectives tied to the key results, values, and behaviors alignment; and either the problem we’re addressing, risks we’re mitigating, or solutions we’re implementing. Additionally, it outlines the roles and responsibilities of involved parties using the DACI model: Driver (decision driver), Approver (decision maker), Contributors (supporting teams or individuals), and Informed (those affected by decisions and needing updates). Just today, my team met to discuss a problem we were trying to solve by leveraging our briefing document. We realized that the problem was the outcome. We needed to do the “Five Whys” exercise to identify the real problem and what we were solving for. That would not have happened if we hadn’t taken the time to leverage our briefing document and realize what was missing.

3. Leverage tools effectively: Tools and technology are only as effective as how we use them. Last week, I received three separate Slack messages from different individuals regarding a project previously led by a departed colleague. It became apparent that Slack wasn’t conducive to achieving clarity or alignment; a face-to-face conversation was necessary. However, before convening the right individuals for a 20-minute meeting, I needed to identify the key stakeholders through some initial investigation. This incident prompted a discussion about gaining alignment on how we are using different tools like Slack, email, and even meetings. Some of my colleagues have even begun experimenting with project sprints – brief, 10-minute meetings either at the beginning or end of the week to ensure clarity and alignment on critical projects. This approach may prove more effective for certain projects and urgent issues that need to be addressed than the traditional hour-long weekly meetings or endless Slack messages.

Next time you are too busy to clarify something with a colleague or a team member and want to just throw something into Slack or an email, hoping that it will come back to you exactly as you expected, take a moment to pause. Make sure you are clear about what you are trying to achieve first. Only then can you provide that clarity to others, get alignment, and create the kind of workplace in which everyone is empowered to do their best work.

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