Align Leaders and Strategy to Navigate Challenging Times

Being thrust into a global pandemic and the economic, political and lifestyle impacts it leaves in its wake certainly tests the mettle of many organizations and leaders. Regardless of the impact recent events have had on your business, unprecedented social, economic and personal challenges continue to swirl as many leaders face the ambiguity of an uncertain future.  While this feels “different” the fact is that change has been driving the bus for some time and is here to stay.  As early as 1987 the term VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) was borrowed from the military and used to describe the changing world and challenges faced by business leaders.[i]

Realigning business priorities, the workforce and likely both stands as an acute reality for many, and the stakes are high.  Powerful emotions are at play when strong leadership is needed most.  Alignment certainly includes ensuring your leaders are on the same page and supportive of the specific strategic goals to pursue.  While agreement has its own challenges, the bigger mountain to climb may be to ensure you have the right people in charge of leading these strategies.  Organizations that survive and thrive through even the most tumultuous challenges not only shift their strategies, they also ensure alignment with their leadership capabilities.

Strategy pivots and external forces may require different capabilities than you needed yesterday.  Assessing and aligning leaders requires taking several key steps to:

  1. Understand your current leadership capacity
  2. Adapt how you lead
  3. Align strategy to leadership strengths
  4. Mobilize and align your people

Understand your current leadership capacity.  Just as with strategy, there’s a need to assess the current state of leadership.  While you can do this using your opinions, be careful of the movies running in your head about each person.  Science-based assessments provide far more accurate insights. When speed is of the essence, either pull out qualified assessments you have used in the past, or select one that can easily be implemented and provides valid results.  A brief, science-based instrument such as The Predictive Index’s Behavioral Assessment[i] can reveal critical information such as a leader’s preferences for decision-making, managing risk, reacting to change and connecting with people.

Adapt how you lead.  We become more of who we are in times of stress.  Challenging times requires even greater self-awareness of our strongest behavioral drives, how to leverage them and when to adapt how we lead.  What worked before may backfire in the face of change.  Leading remote teams requires different methods when you can’t walk around and see people.  How do you shift leaders from their innate styles?  You can’t just tell them to act differently.  Instead, you can tap into data to raise awareness of the most pressing issues, inform the discussions you need to have and the decisions you must make.  


Align strategy to leadership strengths.  Every leadership team can stretch their strengths and capabilities somewhat.  However, even the best teams have gaps.   For greatest results, the behavioral styles and strengths of your leaders need to be compared to and aligned with your organization’s strategic priorities.   Below is one model for illustration.  Talent optimization leader, The Predictive Index, uses a framework adapted from Harvard to depict strategy in four quadrants:  exploring, cultivating, stabilizing and producing.[i]   Mapping these strategic quadrants to leaders’ behavioral preferences reveals alignment of strengths as well as gaps. 

Adapted from The Predictive Index Design strategy alignment model

The capabilities that once served the company well may be less important or need to stretch into new areas. Those creating strategy may not be well suited to execute it.  Leaders used to systematically driving high-production, efficient operations may struggle with experimenting with new, untested processes or suddenly become risk-taking innovators.  There’s no single model of effective leadership traits.  Much as with any sports team, the most successful companies rise to the top and stay there because of the combined capabilities of many, not just one single leader.  

Mobilize and align your people.  Resource needs change through business growth, competitive shifts and external forces of dynamic change.  Beyond strategy and leadership, leaders must consider the work to be done and the people doing the work.  Middle managers and front-line staff serve as the linchpins for achieving strategic goals. Leaders must find ways to mobilize and align the workforce – the people closest to customers, products and services. Successful change management comes when new strategies are implemented while experiencing minimum negative outcomes.   Simply telling people what the new priorities are won’t be enough.  Training them won’t be enough.  

The next article in this series will discuss ways to mobilize the workforce to successfully lead through change and challenging times.   Read the previous article, How to Redefine Strategy Amid Chaos for ideas on quickly pivoting strategy to survive, stabilize and thrive. 

Contact us to share your thoughts or to learn more about how to assess, align and activate your leaders and teams for organizational success. 


[i] Adapted from The Predictive Index PI Strategy AssessmentTM  instrument. https://www.predictiveindex.com/assessments/strategy-assessment/

[i] The Predictive Index (PI) is a talent optimization leader offering science-based solutions, technology and a global network of management consultants and practitioners.  Diana Rivenburgh is a PI Certified Partner.

[i] The acronym VUCA came initially from the military and was later associated with leadership theories of Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus to describe or to reflect on the volatilityuncertaintycomplexity and ambiguity of general conditions and situations. 

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Written by Diana Rivenburgh

Diana Rivenburgh is the CEO/President of Strategic Imperatives Inc., a strategy, leadership and organizational development consulting firm helping clients to build sustainable, prosperous organizations. Diana consults, speaks and writes on strategy, culture, sustainability, change and the leadership capabilities important for enduring success. Her book, The New Corporate Facts of Life, describes the forces powerfully and irreversibly changing the business landscape and provides examples of how forward-thinking organizations view these as tailwinds propelling them into profitable markets while solving some of the most challenging problems of our time. Contact Diana at drivenburgh@strategic-imperatives.com or by phone at (516) 637-6095, and follow her on Twitter @sustainableorgs.