People Just Don’t Get It

As I help leaders find success in the face of more and more situations they are often unprepared for (reference in my last post), there is frequently a mounting frustration with people who just, ‘don’t get it.’ These seemingly clueless ones range from direct reports, to leadership, to customers and peers. They are all over the place. Interestingly, the common denominator is the leader…in almost every case. The funny thing about that is that by definition, if people aren’t following, the leader isn’t leading. That could lead to a whole exercise involving a mirror, but before we go there, remember that for the most part, the situations leaders (at all levels) face in today’s business environment are situations that nothing in their past has prepared them for. Hence, the need to think differently about making people ‘get it.’

For years, people were paid to get it. If the boss said it, what’s to ‘get’? You just did it. That may have worked in a culture where everyone came from basically the same background and culture, had the same education and wanted the same things. It may have worked when everyone at work wanted the company to be successful, knew they would be there for a long time and was willing to ‘do what it takes’ or ‘take one for the team.’ I probably don’t have to tell you that those days are gone. Thinking differently about leadership involves learning to build alignment between very diverse stakeholders. That is a big part of the leaders’ new work in this economy and there’s a big difference required in how one leads to do that effectively.

First, creating alignment needs to be a priority. In order to do that, leaders need to be very clear on what, exactly, people need to be aligned around. Clear missions, goals and objectives are critical, but they are a ticket to entry – the minimum you need to survive as a leader. To do any good, you must take them further and clearly define what they mean for all involved parties – your team, your stakeholders, your direct reports…whoever is critical to the success of your mission, goals and objectives. You won’t get people aligned if you don’t know what alignment looks like for them. What should they be doing? What is the evidence of alignment that you will need to see? What behaviors need to change? Leaders need to be very specific about this if you’re serious about getting people to ‘get it.’


I’ve found that there are so many different goals going on in businesses today that it’s often very difficult for people to understand what their role is, muchless what they need to be aligned to. Just think about it, there are project goals, team goals, individual objectives, stuff that pops up and isn’t listed anywhere but needs to be done now, requests from other department, etc, etc, etc… You can see how if the leader isn’t clear, it’s hard for others to get clear. A leader’s first job is to know what people need to be aligned around.

Once that’s clear, it’s time to begin to understand where people stand today. Every conversation with people above you, below you, beside you and those that interact with your organization from the outside needs to be focused on providing you with information you need to understand:

  • Where people aren’t aligned
  • What they need to get aligned
  • Why they are aligned

It is no longer enough to know that they are or they aren’t aligned. A leader needs to understand the ‘why’ or ‘why not’ so they know where to focus their energy and understand what’s working. It is only in knowing why people aren’t aligned that you will be able to get the real issues out in the open, which is the only place anything can be done about them.

To do this, leaders in today’s market need to spend most of their time understanding other people. Gathering information about their agendas, how they are incented, what motivates them, their passions, pet projects, goals, bosses expectations, client demands, background and culture are all important to understanding where people stand. This is the first step to creating alignment – you must know where people stand.

The next step is what to do with that information. More on that next time.