Top Techniques for Overcoming Burnout and Mastering Effective Management

The Power of Conspire and Align: A New Approach to Management

In 2007, during a leadership seminar at the Rockwood Leadership Institute, then-president Akaya Windwood shared a powerful insight. She said, “This is the meaning of ‘conspire’—to breathe together. To be so deep in it with each other that we share the same air. This is the level of closeness—of alignment—that we aspire to as leaders and movements.”

It’s fascinating to discover that the word “conspire” originates from the Latin word “conspirare,” which means “to breathe together.” This concept has deeply influenced my work as a manager and consultant. In today’s era of disruption and change, managers need teams of innovative problem-solvers who are committed to staying. However, retention can be a challenge for many managers, often due to ingrained bad habits.

Managers may unknowingly replicate outdated management approaches, such as the “command-and-control” style that prioritizes hierarchy and productivity over people’s well-being. On the other hand, they might swing to the opposite extreme, being too hands-off and failing to provide necessary support to their teams.

Managers need a new approach that balances delivering strong results with building equitable and sustainable organizations. This approach is called “conspire and align.”

What is the “Conspire and Align” Approach?

The “conspire and align” approach to management revolves around coming together with team members for a collective purpose and understanding each person’s contribution. It doesn’t rely on one leader having all the answers; instead, it empowers the team to solve problems together because everyone shares a clear understanding of the desired outcome.

When we conspire, we openly communicate our plans to challenge the status quo and disrupt established ways of doing things. We collaborate like a flock of birds, moving towards each other in a shared direction, but maintaining enough separation to avoid crowding.

Alignment involves making expectations explicit and inviting team members to do the same. We make progress together, operating as partners rather than exerting power over employees. Transparency about hierarchy and power is essential for effective management that is equitable, sustainable, and results-driven.

3 Ways to Implement a “Conspire and Align” Approach

Implementing a “conspire and align” approach requires three key factors:

  1. Be flexible, curious, and humble:

Managers must have the humility to admit uncertainty, be curious about others’ perspectives, and learn from them. During the early days of the pandemic, organizations that paused to listen to their community and staff and then made decisive actions based on their learnings demonstrated stability and alignment.

  1. Be transparent about hierarchy and power:

Managers often struggle to navigate their power effectively. Some become too attached to their authority, rejecting new ideas and reacting defensively to feedback. Others avoid asserting authority, framing expectations as suggestions and struggling with boundaries. The “conspire and align” approach views employees as partners and acknowledges the existence of positional power. Transparent communication about hierarchy and power is crucial for creating an environment of equity, inclusion, and belonging.

  1. Go slow to go fast:

Building strong relationships, cultures, and structures takes time. It is worth the effort as it creates a safe, challenging, inclusive, and purposeful work environment. Establish consistent structures for management, such as delegation cycles and regular check-ins with staff. Use fair processes to make big decisions and seek input from those most affected.

Exceeding Employee Expectations

When we discuss how people wish to be managed, the answers are often simple yet profound. Employees desire clear communication, consistent expectations, agency, and a sense of purpose. As a manager, your role is to make your values explicit, hold everyone accountable, and actively contribute to the organizational culture.

Effective management requires ongoing practice and balance. However, when we embrace the “conspire and align” approach, we never have to face the challenges alone.

Jakada Imani is the CEO of The Management Center and co-author of the Amazon bestselling book, Management in a Changing World: How to Manage for Equity, Sustainability, and Results.


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