The Arrowhead

From a strategic perspective, the underlying philosophy of leadership is:

  • to enable all parts of the organisation to work collectively 
  • collaboratively to deliver the strategy whilst living the values.


We know that highly successful leaders do both of these things, with equal emphasis, in a transparent and consistent manner. Less successful leaders tend to focus on strategy and values, in an unequal or inconsistent manner. This leads to disconnected performance, lack of clarity and reduced confidence in the leadership team.

The simplest visual image to help leaders focus on both strategy and values is The Arrowhead:

The Arrowhead has four critical elements:

  • The head of the arrow signifies the direction or the purpose of the organisation. In many circles this is referred to as the “Why?”– in effect, “what are we hoping to achieve?”


  • The delivery boundary refers to the strategy and delivery plans of the organisation, symbolising that these need to be aligned and connected from top to bottom. In essence – “What do we need to do?”


  • The behaviour boundary refers to the values and behaviours that the organisation has identified as being essential for outstanding performance – “How do we need to behave?”


  • The bandwidth between the boundaries which we refer to as the performance latitude – the space that each person has to be authentically themselves


Each of the four elements is critically important, so effective leaders need to ensure that the definition and understanding of these are clear and unambiguous. 

The head of the arrow illustrates the need to have a clear vision and purpose for the organisation – a compelling focus around which everyone can align, and an ambition that everyone can strive to achieve. Leadership teams, when first asked to consider this, often take a simplistic but legitimate view that the organisation is “here to make money for shareholders.” When pushed to consider purpose more deeply, however, they begin to articulate the need for sustainable performance that is delivered through an aligned and supported value chain from suppliers, through employees and technology, and on to customers and brand profile. This more comprehensive statement of purpose enables the various parts of the value chain to align and focus their endeavours, through a heightened sense of ownership and engagement.

A clearly stated purpose has the additional benefit of being an aspirational statement against which all activities can be assessed and evaluated – “does this help us to achieve our purpose?” being the salient question to keep us focused and on track.

The Delivery boundary – the deployed strategy – is the means by which we can ensure that all activities are aligned, and that the goal cascade is simple, transparent and connected. A connected goal cascade ensures that leadership teams clearly see how the strategy is broken down into functional, team and individual activities. It also enables individuals and teams to clearly see how their work is contributing to the delivery of the strategy, and to achievement of the purpose.

The left-hand ‘Delivery Boundary’ is called a boundary because we know that if people do not deliver their committed accountabilities this will compromise the overall performance of the organisation – in effect, they have stepped outside the performance boundary and need to be supported to get back inside the arrowhead as quickly as possible.

The Behaviour Boundary – the values and behaviours – is the articulated performance culture of the organisation; the way that we need everyone to behave consistently if we are to deliver our strategy and achieve our purpose. Clearly stating the performance culture sets clear expectations about what is and what is not acceptable, helping leaders to understand how to be role models, and to develop behavioural consistency across their teams.

It is a boundary because we know that if someone behaves in a way which is not aligned to the performance culture, it will compromise delivery of the strategy and the connectedness and cohesion of the team. Once again, therefore, if people step outside the behaviour boundary, we need to support them to get back inside the arrowhead as quickly as possible.

Typically, people stepping outside the behaviour boundary are left to do so for longer than people stepping outside the performance boundary because leaders tend to focus on results and getting the job done. The reality, however, is that stepping outside the right-hand side of the arrowhead causes more performance and delivery issues. It is clear, however, that leaders find addressing performance boundary issues more difficult and tend to leave them until they have to deal with them, not realising that by doing nothing they are actively allowing the breaches to continue, and therefore contributing to the problem.

The bandwidth of the arrowhead is referred to as the ‘performance latitude’. This shows that whilst we are looking for consistency, we are not looking for homogeneity, we do not want everyone to be the same. As long as each person in the organisation delivers their committed accountabilities, and aligns with the performance culture, then they are within the arrowhead, and there is plenty of space across the performance latitude for people to be uniquely and authentically themselves. In this way, we can respect, enjoy and positively value the diversity and talent of all of our people – they each occupy different spaces within the arrowhead but, by being within the arrowhead, they are focused on the purpose, delivering their commitments, living the performance culture and contributing to the shared success of the organisation.

We have used the Arrowhead in an extensive range of consultancy assignments, and found it to be a highly effective means of enabling leaders to be clear and transparent about why the organisation is there, how it delivers its strategy; how it embeds a performance culture that values each person; and how it enables everyone to work collaboratively, in an aligned way, to co-create success.

The challenge is not setting out the detail of the arrowhead; rather it is purposefully and intentionally role-modelling the arrowhead, while developing an enabling leadership style that supports and encourages the whole team to do the same.

That is the key to sustainable high performance and business success.

If the answer is no, then we need to reconsider the proposed changes and find better, more aligned ways of addressing the Performance deficit. 

If the answer is yes, then we can confidently make the changes and communicate to our teams that we are making tactical changes within the context of a consistent strategic journey.  That message helps to avoid images of “fishtailing” and reactive leadership and replaces it with purposeful and intentional responses to contingent circumstances whilst remaining strategically focused and aligned.

In the next Insights we will look at how we align the 4Ps and the DRIVE model to create a change map and to help manage the change process.

Watch the video below of Dr. Paul Victor talking with a client about the Arrowhead approach.


We challenge you to be the very best you can be and fully support your leadership team along the journey to change.

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