The Power of Attunement

The corner office is a place to take time to think about things in some new ways. In this spirit, I’d like to discuss a word I learned from a marketing executive and friend, Mike Daugherty – attunement. So what does it mean, how is it relevant to leadership, and what benefits can it provide?

What is attunement?

Attunement is an approach that goes beyond authority-based methods used to gain organizational alignment. It involves becoming fully aware of and committed to the vision and mission as well as understanding and agreeing on what needs to be done.
Nothing new there? Perhaps, but in my practice I often find a substantial difference between what senior leaders believe and what the rest of the organization perceives about these things. The most important attunement responsibility comes into play here: insisting on organizational focus and harmony.
Get beyond power-based alignment techniques that force people to play off the same page. Instead, encourage and empower individuals to willingly join together in creating something larger than themselves – much like an orchestra conductor does.
This metaphor is useful because an orchestra conductor leads a group of individual artists, each with their own knowledge, skills, instruments, and roles, to perform with:
  • Common intent – that of creating a memorable performance.
  • A carefully designed plan – a comprehensive score that specifies everyone’s part.
  • Focused discipline – individual and collective commitment to the score.
  • An expectation of excellence – working together to get things right.
  • Precise execution – performing under pressure as a single unit.
How Is It Relevant?

How does attunement apply to your leadership practice? Well, what’s been described is an example of “systems thinking”, a powerful way of viewing an organization as more than just a mechanical collection
of functional parts. It is an integrated, organic and dynamic business system.
Attuned leaders understand that systems are designed to get the results they achieve and nothing more. Everything is connected to everything else and optimizing one part of a system will often sub-optimize another. No one thing matters as much as how everything works together as one. So, to optimize the system it’s important to place the right talent in the right role.

How Does This Benefit Me?

The model shows how the elements of a strategically attuned organization can work. The external operating environment can be influenced, although not fully controlled. The vision anchors the firm. Functional silos and cross-functional processes transform inputs from suppliers into outputs for customers, both of which are fully inside the system. The support infrastructure enables everything to work.
Developing a fully attuned matrix organization is not easy, but leaders who orchestrate the entire system stand to gain greater engagement and commitment as well as clearer decision authority and accountability. This will also improve business support systems and better efficiency and effectiveness in meeting customer needs. To me, these seem like worthy goals, and attunement seems worth thinking about.


Lynn Olsen, Ph.D. is the CEO of The Innovation Group, Inc., a Minnesota-based leadership organization improvement consultancy. He can be reached at: [email protected].
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