Book Summary: A better lens on leadership and group performance.

DAC Book Cover

Direction, Alignment, Commitment: Achieving Better Results Through Leadership, Second Edition

by Cynthia McCauley and Lynn Fick-Cooper, Center for Creative Leadership

This book aims to help us refine our perspective on group performance by deepening our understanding of “leadership” and its impact on collective success. It encourages us to move beyond instinctively blaming individual leaders for poor performance. Instead, it urges us to recognize that leadership is a social process involving factors across the group, extending beyond the person in charge. As a result, a “leadership” problem isn’t always a “leader” problem. Effective leadership yields three outcomes within the group: direction, alignment, and commitment (DAC). We can enhance the overall success of the group by assessing and improving DAC variables in a holistic manner.

It’s a concise read at 66 pages, featuring an assessment tool and checklists to kickstart your journey, along with brief case studies to further illustrate the process.

This summary reflects my insights from a book I found valuable and recommend to others. While this summary doesn’t replace reading the book, it offers a glimpse into its richness. If these ideas resonate with you, I encourage you to get a copy from your library or preferred bookseller. Here are the Amazon links: e-book | Print


1. Leadership is a holistic process that involves more than the individual with formal authority.

Leadership, as a social process, enables a group to work cohesively beyond individual capabilities. It encompasses interactions and dynamics among all group members, influenced by various factors such as individual skills and values, group structure, processes, and overall culture and environment. Effective leadership diagnosis requires a “whole systems” view, considering all these factors, not just the formal leader. While leaders are crucial, they constitute just one piece of the complex leadership puzzle.

2. A “leadership” problem isn’t always a “leader” problem.

We frequently confuse “leadership” problems with “leader” problems, leading us astray. While the leader might be part of the problem, replacing them isn’t always the straightforward solution—it’s a knee-jerk and often costly fix that may not address underlying issues. Viewing these issues initially as leadership problems, not only as leader problems, provides valuable information for improvement to both the leader and the group.

A “leadership” problem indicates a flaw in the social process that impedes individuals from working cohesively, resulting in low levels of direction, alignment, or commitment. It encompasses interactions and exchanges between all group members, influenced by individual skills, values, diversity, formal structures, procedures, and the group’s culture.

In contrast, a “leader” problem originates from the individual or individuals in charge, such as managers or team leaders, focusing on their effectiveness in fulfilling roles and responsibilities. A leader problem might arise due to inadequate skills, poor decision-making, or a lack of motivation or commitment.

3. Direction, Alignment, and Commitment (DAC) are essential outcomes of effective leadership.

When a group’s leadership process is effective, it generates direction, alignment, and commitment within the group.

  • Direction: Agreement in the group on overall goals. Strong direction involves a shared understanding of overall goals, fostering group success. Weak direction leads to uncertainty and competing goals.
  • Alignment: Coordinated work within the group. Effective alignment entails coordinated work among members with different tasks or expertise. Weak alignment results in isolated work, risking duplication or overlooked tasks.
  • Commitment: Mutual responsibility for the group. Robust commitment involves mutual responsibility for the group’s success, trust, and support during challenges. Weak commitment prioritizes individual or functional interests, contributing sporadically or when convenient.

DAC problems are distinct from other factors impacting group results, such as unexpected changes in the external environment, misaligned or ineffective strategies, or resource constraints.

4. To improve DAC, take a holistic approach.

A whole-systems approach to diagnosing the source of problems impacting a group’s collective success involves examining the group’s leadership processes and outcomes, as well as the wider system in which the group operates. Key to this approach is the DAC framework, focusing on the interrelated outcomes of direction, alignment, and commitment as indicators of effective group leadership.

  1. Assess DAC: Utilize the “DAC Assessment” tool (included in the book and available online) to evaluate current levels of direction, alignment, and commitment.
  2. Identify Contributing Factors: If low levels of DAC are identified, the next step is to explore possible contributing factors. For example:
    • Direction Problems: Unclear goals, disagreements on the path forward, and resistance to setting a shared direction.
    • Alignment Problems: Weak coordination processes, poorly structured work, unclear ownership/responsibilities, and low motivation to work together.
    • Commitment Problems: Individuals not feeling accountable to the team, lacking a sense of belonging, or prioritizing personal goals over the team’s success.
  3. Identify changes that could improve DAC: While the changes to improve DAC will depend on the specific group, the book includes four general strategies to get you started:
    • Involve Group Members: Engage everyone in finding solutions to improve team dynamics.
      • Engaging group members in the diagnosis process is crucial to gain diverse perspectives and foster ownership of improvement efforts.
      • Group members can provide valuable input on factors contributing to the problems and suggest potential solutions.
    • Seek Out Expertise: Bring in external knowledge or resources to address identified weaknesses.
    • Take a Systems Perspective: Consider how all team parts (processes, individuals, goals) interact and influence each other.
      • The whole-systems approach emphasizes the interconnectedness of all aspects of the group system, including individual group members, relationships, processes, culture, and the external environment.
      • By considering the group as a system, it is possible to identify how changes in one area can impact other areas and the overall functioning of the group.
    • Engage in Continuous Learning: Make improvement an ongoing process where the team learns and adapts over time.
      • The whole-systems approach is an ongoing process involving continuous assessment, reflection, and adaptation.
      • By regularly revisiting DAC levels and examining contributing factors, groups can identify areas for improvement and make adjustments to their leadership processes as needed.


While the DAC framework offers a valuable lens for understanding team dynamics, the book acknowledges that external factors like changing environments and resource constraints also affect performance. This highlights DAC’s role as a powerful tool within a broader performance management toolbox.

Book details and where to buy it:

Get the book on Amazon: e-book | Print (affiliate links*)
Amazon rating: 4.4
Page count: 66
Publication date: January 17, 2020
Author website: Leadership = Direction, Alignment & Commitment (DAC) | CCL

*These are affiliate links. We may receive a small commission from Amazon on your purchase at no additional cost to you.