• Published March 15, 2024
  • 9 Minute Read

Direction + Alignment + Commitment (DAC) = Leadership

Leadership isn't about individuals; it's a social process. Our DAC model for leadership explains how direction, alignment, and commitment are the outcomes of leadership, and how the whole system is involved in making leadership happen.
DAC (Direction Alignment Commitment) Model for Leadership

It Isn’t Just About Individuals — Leadership Is a Social Process

The list of “what makes a good leader” is a long one. It’s as if we’ve taken every positive human quality and made it into a requirement for effective leadership. It’s time to step back and take a different approach, because leadership isn’t actually all about individual leaders and their capabilities.

Instead of putting the entire weight of leadership on individual managers and their skills, it’s important to examine how the whole system is involved in making leadership happen. So how can you tell if leadership is happening in a team, in a workgroup, on a task force, or across the organization?

At CCL, we view leadership as a social process that enables individuals to work together to achieve results that they could never achieve working as individuals. Our widely-recognized Direction, Alignment, and Commitment (DAC) model for leadership moves beyond the idea of leaders, followers, and shared goals, with the revolutionary idea that leadership happens when a group of people are producing direction, alignment, and commitment. 

In other words, the DAC model showcases how leadership happens in the interactions and exchanges among people with shared work.

Consider the exchanges between employees and their managers, the interactions among team members, the quality of relationships throughout the organization, the actions of teams and committees, and the use of existing organizational structures and processes. These can all impact whether leadership happens or not.

What Is DAC? The DAC Model for Leadership, Explained

Whether within a team, workgroup, task force, division, department, community, or an entire organization, there must be a clear sense of shared direction, alignment, and commitment. The group needs:

  • agreement about its direction and what they are trying to accomplish together;
  • alignment for effective coordination of the work in service of their shared direction; and
  • strong commitment to prioritize the success of the collective.

Infographic: How Leadership Happens Through the DAC Model for Leadership (Direction, Alignment & Commitment Model)

These 3 outcomes of leadership in the DAC model — direction, alignment, and commitment — make it possible for individuals to work together willingly and effectively to realize organizational achievements. So when we say making leadership happen, we mean making direction, alignment, and commitment happen.

In fact, we think the only way to know if leadership has happened is to look for the presence of these 3 outcomes.

But there isn’t “a” single leader making leadership happen.

Don’t get us wrong — we aren’t abandoning the importance of leadership development and individual managers examining and further developing their talents and capabilities. But we are suggesting that while that’s necessary, it’s not sufficient for improving leadership in groups, organizations, and society… because the actions, interactions, reactions, and exchanges of multiple people are producing the direction, alignment, and commitment together.

Understanding the Direction, Alignment & Commitment (DAC) Model

Our widely recognized, evidence-based DAC model for leadership has been used as a way to understand the outcomes of leadership for years. And outlined in our white paper on the DAC model, here is how to tell whether your team or organization is weak or strong in each area of direction, alignment, and commitment.


Direction is agreement in the group on overall goals — what the group is trying to achieve together.

  • In groups with strong direction: Members have a shared understanding of what group success looks like and agree on what they’re aiming to accomplish.
  • In groups with weak direction: Members are uncertain about what they should accomplish together, or they feel pulled in different directions by competing goals.


Alignment is coordinated work within the group and integration of the different aspects of the work so that it fits together in service of the shared direction.

  • In groups with strong alignment: Members with different tasks, roles, or sets of expertise coordinate their work.
  • In groups with weak alignment: Members work more in isolation, unclear about how their tasks fit into the larger work of the group, and are in danger of working at cross-purposes, duplicating efforts, or having important work fall through the cracks.


Commitment is mutual responsibility for the group, when people are making the success of the collective (not just their individual success) a personal priority.

  • In groups with strong commitment: Members feel responsible for the success and wellbeing of the group, and they know that other group members feel the same. They trust each other and will stick with the group through difficult times.
  • In groups with weak commitment: Members put their own interests ahead of the group’s interests and contribute to the group only when it’s easy to do so or when they have something to gain.

What does DAC look like in action? How can you recognize DAC? Here’s a quick summary of how to recognize whether direction, alignment, and commitment are happening in your organization or team.

Is DAC Happening? Using The Model to Recognize Direction, Alignment & Commitment

Infographic: How to Evaluate DAC (Direction, Alignment, and Commitment) With the DAC Model

Using the DAC Model In Practice

3 Steps for Leaders & Organizations to Increase Direction, Alignment, and Commitment

At CCL, we’ve been using the DAC model with people across every level, sector, function, culture, and demographic for over 20 years. Here’s what you need to do to build DAC on your team.

1. First, assess current levels of DAC in the group.

The best way to do this is to get input from everyone involved. If you rely on just your own perspective, you’re probably missing key information. You can take our quick, free assessment of DAC levels with your team to gauge the degree to which your team agrees on statements such as:

  • We agree on what we should be aiming to accomplish together.
  • We have group priorities that help us focus on the most important work.
  • The work of each individual is well coordinated with the work of others.
  • People are clear about how their tasks fit into the work of the group.
  • We make the success of the group — not just our individual success — a priority.

2. If you find that the group has low levels of direction, alignment, or commitment, dig a bit deeper.

Some factors that contribute to weak DAC include:

  • Direction hasn’t been articulated or talked about.
  • We jump into tasks and projects without a plan or without connecting the plan to others’ work.
  • We don’t bring in others with relevant expertise or manage work assignments effectively.
  • Resources aren’t appropriately allocated.
  • We’re unclear about who is responsible for what tasks or who has the authority to make what decisions.
  • We see duplication of effort or gaps where aspects of the work fall through the cracks.
  • Group members don’t see themselves as having the ability or influence to address problems.
  • Individuals don’t feel like they get the credit they deserve for their contributions to the group.

3. Identify changes that could improve the levels of direction, alignment, or commitment.

There are countless ways to address the problems you find — but this is where your group can tailor efforts specifically to what matters most. You’ll want to engage the insights and creativity of the group to come up with changes to address key issues.

You can also draw on outside expertise for ideas and solutions, including partnering with us for world-class individual, team, and organizational development built upon our DAC framework content, training, and solutions. Keep in mind that direction, alignment, and commitment are group-level outcomes. Any aspect of the group can impact them. To enhance DAC, you might need to change things such as:

  • The quality or frequency of interactions among group members.
  • The relationships among particular members.
  • The formal or informal processes for making decisions or getting work accomplished.
  • The skills of individual group members.
  • Shared assumptions and cultural beliefs of the group as a whole.
Direction, Alignment, Commitment
Learn how to diagnose problems in your team and get better results by focusing on the 3 outcomes of effective leadership: direction, alignment, and commitment. Get our DAC model guidebook.

Strategies to Create More DAC in Your Organization or Team

3 Strategies to Increase DAC Levels Within Your Group

So how do you, as a manager, use the DAC model to make leadership happen in your organization? Here are 3 important strategies to try.

1. Pay attention to whether leadership is happening.

Start looking for evidence of DAC. By paying attention to outcomes, you’ll not only begin to discern where more is needed, but you’ll also start to see the kinds of processes and interactions that are producing the desired levels of direction, alignment, and commitment.

2. Make more leadership happen.

When you notice that there aren’t many leadership processes in place, create them. When there are useful leadership processes in place, make sure people have the skills to participate in them effectively. And when existing leadership processes no longer seem to be producing the needed direction, alignment, and commitment, explore new ones. For example, consider:

  • To create more Direction:
    • Does a more diverse group of people need to be involved?
  • To create more Alignment:
    • When a new strategic initiative is being launched, does your staff have the skills to analyze its implication for their own work?
    • Do you need to meet more regularly with your peers to prioritize work?
    • Are clearer accountability structures needed?
  • To create more Commitment:
    • Are more honest conversations about proposed changes needed?
    • Can you match members of your staff with projects that they are most enthusiastic about, while still assuring that all the projects are adequately resourced?

3. Improve your own ability to participate in cultivating leadership.

It’s useful to continually deepen and broaden your individual skills and abilities. With a broader repertoire of capabilities, you’ll be able to participate more effectively in a wide range of processes.

If you’re wondering where to focus your development efforts, consider that one lens for examining this question is the DAC model:

  • If there’s one place in your organization where you would desperately like to see more DAC, where would that be?
  • What would you need to get better at doing so more leadership happens in that setting?

Of course, understand that the DAC model for leadership isn’t a quick fix. But it does provide clarity and a way forward. Talk to people about where direction, alignment, and commitment are happening, and where they aren’t. Enlist others in your experiments with new leadership processes, and seek input on how to improve your own capabilities.

Because leadership is shared work — at the end of the day, you can only make leadership happen with others.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Ready to help leaders at every level of your organization understand the DAC model for leadership and learn how to become more effective in setting direction, building commitment, and creating alignment? Partner with us to craft a customized learning journey for your team using our research-based modules. Available leadership topics include Boundary Spanning, Conflict Resolution, the DAC Framework for Effective Leadership, Emotional Intelligence, Listening to Understand, Psychological Safety, and more.

  • Published March 15, 2024
  • 9 Minute Read

Based on Research by

Cindy McCauley
Cindy McCauley
Honorary Senior Fellow

With over 30 years of experience at CCL, Cindy has contributed to many aspects of CCL’s work: research, publication, product development, program evaluation, coaching, and management. She designs and manages R&D projects, coaches action learning teams, writes for multiple audiences, and is a frequent speaker at professional conferences.

Lynn Fick-Cooper
Lynn Fick-Cooper
Chief Equity & Societal Impact Officer

Lynn leads diverse teams responsible for the design and delivery of leadership solutions for social sector organizations focused on K–12 and Higher Education, Nonprofits, and Population Health; social sector research and evaluation; fundraising; and program operations. She’s also Executive Sponsor of our Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Practice, working to develop and deliver effective leadership solutions that help CCL and our clients create equitable, diverse, and inclusive organizational cultures.

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About CCL

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL)® is a top-ranked, global, nonprofit provider of leadership development and a pioneer in the field of global leadership research. We know from experience how transformative remarkable leaders really can be.

Over the past 50 years, we’ve worked with organizations of all sizes from around the world, including more than 2/3 of the Fortune 1000. Our hands-on development solutions are evidence-based and steeped in our work with hundreds of thousands of leaders at all levels.