Use Planning to build Leadership Alignment

by Dr. Ginny Trierweiler, Mission-Based Leader’s Coach

The mental health organization was notified by the insurance company that  intensive services would no longer be authorized for more than a 90 day period, though program staff strongly believed that one year of services was an absolute minimum necessary for achieving their goals. Through a thoughtful planning process, with a variety of interested parties, it became clear that everyone believed that 90 days of intensive services could make a big difference for these clients— if only they changed their intended outcomes. Rather than trying to achieve “stability” among the child and youth clients with mental illness,  which never seemed to occur anyway, they would now work to achieve “capacity and confidence” in the youth’s parents to manage the ups and downs of their child’s mental illness and minimize crises. Program staff and clients went from panic to resolve to the achievement of meaningful measurable outcomes, all because of a thoughtful planning process. 

Mission-based leaders work to make a positive difference in the world, improving the health, education and welfare of people in their communities, often in regulation-heavy, resource-scarce environments. It is my pleasure and my honor to support mission-based leaders doing such important, life-changing work, and the primary way I help them achieve their missions is through strengthening their leaders.

I do leadership coaching work with mission-based leaders and this is often powerfully beneficial for both the individual leader and their organization. But it has become more and more clear to me that the greatest organizational momentum and impact derives from the functioning of the leadership team. Of course, the central figure (CEO, board chairperson, or other team leader) influences the leadership team’s functioning; but I notice that the strength of the leadership teams often varies, even with the same central figure. This is important because organizational functioning follows leadership team functioning: when leadership team functioning is high, the organization has great momentum, moving forward firing on all cylinders and, when leadership team functioning becomes rocky, organizational functioning slows down.

I often use planning processes to build leadership alignment. What better way to build alignment than to define and resolve challenges together? By the time the planning process is complete, members of the leadership team are generally much clearer about where they’re headed and they ought to feel much more united in their work towards that focus.It is in doing great work together that dynamic leadership teams are forged. They bond in the achievement of the mission, partly through the work of solving complex problems together.

It is important to recognize that planning is not just about the annual strategic planning retreat. Planning processes occur all the time; whether in a very organized way or quickly, on-the-fly.  The question is how thoughtful and effective those processes are.  I suggest that the need to plan  presents an opportunity to strengthen your leadership team.

Coping with Change. Mission-based leaders frequently must respond to changing funding or regulatory environments, and they want to respond in a way that ensures both the best, uninterrupted service delivery and the most responsible fiscal management. When you confront such challenges and gather your best minds to consider and plan the best approaches for handling this environmental shift, your leadership team develops invaluable capacity to solve problems together.

Solving problems together creates alignment between leaders.  It’s wonderful to discover that,  having spent a lot of time working to resolve problems together, the leadership team has built great capacity for resolving crises that arise in the course of doing your mission-based work. When your organization confronts a crucial moment, the capacity to resolve a crisis for the benefit of the organization and its mission will be there. Many things will change in the life of your leadership team, but the feeling “we can solve problems together!” will be an invaluable touchstone to fall back on when they confront the inevitable challenges of leading a mission-based organization.

In the next post, I will identify three other situations that expose opportunities for using planning to strengthen leadership alignment and capacity.

The intensive services team described above became a much more effective team by working through a crisis. Can you recall a moment when your leadership team built alignment through solving problems?

Dr. Ginny Trierweiler, the Mission-Based Leaders Coach


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