- Steve Nguyen, PhD
Book Review: Awaken, Align, Accelerate by MDA Leadership
Updated: Aug 24, 2022
Awaken, Align, Accelerate (2011) is a leadership development and coaching guide from MDA Leadership Consulting. The book harnesses “the art and science of developing leaders into a unique collection of self-assessments, development suggestions, case studies, sample leadership development plans, coaching recommendations, and cross-cultural coaching tips” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 1).
MDA Leadership’s Awaken, Align, Accelerate is a big book. But once you flip through its brawny pages and are able to easily spot valuable information on each page (thanks to the great use of colors, bullets, and charts), I think you’ll agree that the book’s hefty size is an advantage. I actually appreciate its large size.
The overall layout (i.e., visuals, colors, graphics, tables, and charts), especially the use of colors to call out specific sections/areas on each page, is praiseworthy as it really helps to visually direct your eyes to important or interesting areas. For example, the tabs are nicely colored in blue so you can easily tell which competency you’re on and, on the back page (of each blue tab/competency), you’ll notice a gray tab which is the leadership factor that encompasses the competency.
“This guide focuses attention on what it takes to develop senior leaders, those who have responsibility for multiple teams inside a function (e.g., sales, marketing, finance) or an entire business within an organization. Additionally, we’ve designed this guide to be used by managers aspiring upward or even more senior executives facing similar challenges.” -Introduction of Awaken, Align, Accelerate
According to MDA Leadership, the book is the collaborative effort of 21 authors, most with over 25 years of leadership development experience, and was reviewed by over 60 colleagues who provided valuable insight. It includes almost 2,000 development and coaching suggestions, real-life case studies, and pragmatic development tools.
The Awaken, Align, Accelerate book is divided into six sections to match the six leadership factors of MDA’s Leadership Competency Model (Leading People, Thinking and Deciding, Achieving, Relating to People, Managing Work, and Managing Self). Each section (or factor) is further divided into a set of competencies that correspond to that particular factor. The core of the Awaken, Align, Accelerate book is divided into 16 chapters, one chapter for each of the 16 competencies in MDA’s Leadership Competency Model. Each chapter includes a self-assessment, development suggestions, and coaching suggestions.
LEADING PEOPLE (leadership factor #1)
1. Leading Courageously (competency) 2. Creating Alignment (competency) 3. Team Leadership (competency) 4. Developing Leaders (competency)
THINKING AND DECIDING (leadership factor #2)
5. Strategic Thinking (competency) 6. Business Acumen (competency) 7. Critical Thinking and Judgment (competency)
ACHIEVING (leadership factor #3)
8. Drive for Results (competency) 9. Innovation and Risk-Taking (competency)
RELATING TO PEOPLE (leadership factor #4)
10. Interpersonal Effectiveness (competency) 11. Building Collaboration (competency)
MANAGING WORK (leadership factor #5)
12. Planning and Organizing (competency) 13. Managing Execution (competency)
MANAGING SELF (leadership factor #6)
14. Resilience (competency) 15. Integrity (competency) 16. Learning Orientation (competency)
For each of the 16 competencies, there’s a nice description of each competency, a graphic indicating which of the 6 leadership factors covers that specific competency, and the 5 core practices that are contained within that particular competency.
Here’s how the Leading Courageously competency looks:
Leading Courageously [definition]: Successful organizations need courageous leaders at every level who display confidence and skill in the use of leadership, power, and authority. They assume responsibility for tackling tough assignments and pursue difficult challenges. Courageous leaders are assertive and appropriately tough-minded without being insensitive. They take initiative, act with independence, and demonstrate strength of conviction in pursuing their leadership agendas. They shape the thinking of others and actively influence upwards and across the organization.
FACTOR: Leading People COMPETENCY: Leading Courageously CORE PRACTICE: Authority, Courage, Assertiveness, Independence, Influence
In my opinion, what makes Awaken, Align, Accelerate stand head and shoulders above the rest are the following features:
* Leadership Levels Matrix – it illustrates how leaders (front-line managers, function leaders, and senior executives) at different levels vary by core practice.
* Self-Assessment – evaluates individual development needs, strengths or excessively used core practice behaviors.
* Development Suggestions – development tips for each core practice and sub-grouped by Awaken potential, Align goals, and Accelerate development framework. After completing the self-assessment, leaders are encouraged to focus on suggestions that correspond to the core practice s/he identified as a development need or excessive use.
* Coaching Suggestions – coaching tips for two different behaviors under each core practice grouped by Awaken, Align, Accelerate framework.
* Case Study / Development Plan / Coaching Plan – a real-life case study leading to a sample development plan and coaching plan.
Leadership Levels Matrix for the Business Acumen competency.
The first thing I like in Awaken, Align, Accelerate is the use of a Leadership Levels Matrix (shown above) “a chart that shows how key leadership skills play out at the manager, function leader, and senior executive levels of the pipeline” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 7). This chart/matrix illustrates how leaders at different levels (managers, function leaders, senior executives) vary by core practice. Let’s take a closer look.
For the Business Acumen competency and the Operating Models core practice, we can see “How Leaders at Different Levels Use Business Acumen” (see figure above). For front-line managers, it’s about recognizing how their areas of responsibility contribute to the bottom line. For function leaders, it’s about knowing the organization’s business model and how it operates. And for the senior executives, it’s about enhancing and evolving business models that fuel profitable growth.
As MDA Leadership explains: “Success looks different at different leadership levels [and] successful transitions to a new level [of leadership] involves developing the right skills and behaviors. . . . To successfully navigate from one level to the next, leaders need to understand the behavior differences and develop strategies for closing the gap” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 6).
Development Suggestions (Part 1) for the Empowerment core practice of the Team Leadership competency
Development Suggestions (Part 2) for the Empowerment core practice of the Team Leadership competency
Similar to Korn/Ferry’s FYI book, MDA Leadership’s Awaken, Align, Accelerate book features “Development Suggestions” (shown above) which are development tips. Development Suggestions are provided for each core practice and sub-grouped by Awaken potential, Align goals, and Accelerate development framework. After completing the self-assessment, leaders are encouraged to focus on suggestions that correspond to the core practice s/he identified as a development need or excessive use. In the example shown above, we see Development Suggestions for the Empowerment core practice of the Team Leadership competency.
Coaching Suggestions for the Utilization core practice in the Team Leadership competency
Another thing I like is the Coaching Others section for each competency. Here, the Awaken, Align, Accelerate book really shines as it demonstrates how to coach others. Indeed, the Introduction page of the book states: “Developing yourself and coaching others are the central themes of this guide” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 1). In the example shown above, we see Coaching Suggestions for the Utilization core practice of the Team Leadership competency.
Finally, MDA Leadership uses an IMPACT Coaching Steps process (shown above) that is mapped to their Awaken, Align, Accelerate framework. Using a pneumonic in the word IMPACT (Increase INSIGHT, MOTIVATE change, PLAN goals, ALIGN expectations, CREATE teachable moments, TRACK progress), MDA Leadership paired two coaching steps for each phase of their Awaken, Align, Accelerate framework.
Mapping the IMPACT Coaching Steps onto each phase of the Awaken, Align, Accelerate framework is a brilliant move as it ties the coaching process with MDA Leadership’s three-phase (Awaken, Align, Accelerate) model. It shows that there’s been a great deal of thought behind both the overall framework/model as well as the tactical tools and tips shared throughout the book.
MDA Leadership’s approach to leadership development is built on the interaction of three concepts (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011):
1. Talent Pipeline – an overarching context to understanding the leadership requirement at different levels within an organization. A talent pipeline illustrates the skills, knowledge, and values needed in leadership across levels of any organizations. To successfully navigate from one level to the next, leaders need to understand the behavior differences and develop strategies for closing the gap (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011).
2. Leadership Competency Model – a model for defining the knowledge, skills, and behaviors required across different levels of leadership. Although many organizations have defined cascading leadership models, few have integrated their models with the pipeline context in as much detail as MDA Leadership presented in the Awaken, Align, Accelerate book (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011).
3. Awaken, Align, Accelerate – a simple but elegant framework to help leaders develop themselves and coach others (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011).
The Awaken, Align, Accelerate Framework
“The Awaken, Align, Accelerate framework represents three crucial phases in a leader’s growth. Each phase is critical for meaningful and sustained development to occur. Leaders cycle through these phases each time they experience new insights, practices, and results at different levels of the talent pipeline” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 11).
Awaken leaders to growth opportunities and build awareness of their strengths and weaknesses.
Align their skills and experiences with the priorities and needs of the business.
Accelerate their ability to take on new responsibilities and deliver superior results.
Phase 1: Awaken Your Potential
“The Awaken phase is about helping leaders understand their impact through honest assessment. It combines taking stock of their current strengths and development opportunities as well as identifying what they want to achieve. . . . [L]eaders gain increased awareness about their leadership style, skills, and values. They also learn how their behavior affects others as well as their own performance and results. . . . The Awaken phase can give leaders a comprehensive understanding of how others perceive them and how they see themselves” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 12).
Phase 2: Align Your Goals
“The Align phase is the intersection between a leader’s personal development goals and the business agenda–what the organization needs from that leader to deliver strong results today and into the future. By understanding the business context for the leader’s development goals and aligning them with business outcomes, both the leader and the organization are positioned to deliver stronger results and achieve greater potential” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 13).
Phase 3: Accelerate Your Performance
“The Accelerate phase [is about] designing and deploying intentional development strategies that help enhance leadership performance on the most vital priorities. It leverages outcomes from the Awaken and Align phases, focusing development efforts on what is most critical. This phase is about executing the plan to ensure development actually happens through seeking new experiences, gaining additional knowledge, and practicing key leadership skills and behaviors. The Accelerate phase is the how and when of development” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 13).
Takeaway: Awaken, Align, Accelerate is an impressive body of work from consultants at MDA Leadership. No book review (including this one) can do it justice simply because of the depth and breadth of its content. This is not a book you can read and put away, especially since it’s a reference guide. Instead, you turn to it, time and time again, as a useful leadership and coaching reference. This incredible book is helpful to: (1) leaders who want to develop themselves and coach others, (2) coaches who will benefit from its suggestions and tips, and (3) human resources professionals exploring a leadership model & competencies. MDA Leadership’s Awaken, Align, Accelerate now occupies a prominent place on my bookshelf. It’s an invaluable leadership and coaching guide. The beautiful layout of the book (great use of colors, white space, bullets, tables, and charts), the manageable set of 16 leadership competencies with clear descriptions, the use of a Leadership Levels Matrix for each competency, the Coaching Others section for each competency, and the Case Study / Development Plan / Coaching Plan for each competency all combine to propel MDA Leadership’s Awaken, Align, Accelerate to the top of my “Highly Recommended List” – earning my absolute highest recommendation!
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Organizational & Leadership Development Leader
Nelson, S. E., & Ortmeier, J. G. (2011). Awaken, Align, Accelerate: A Guide to Great Leadership. Edina, MN: Beaver’s Pond Press, Inc.
Disclosure: I purchased Awaken, Align, Accelerate: A Guide to Great Leadership on my own.
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