Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hope is Not a (communication) Method

You know, nothing challenges a team like a lack of guidance from their leader. Nothing frustrates like spinning wheels and putting energy into things that are later suggested to be all wrong. Really boss? That input would have been helpful weeks ago. Had we only known what you wanted, this task would have been easy. Nice to know now. Grrrrr.....

I've witnessed a number of instances lately of leaders putting their respective teams into SPINCON LEVEL 6 (the highest spin level! Ha!) because they are failing to provide the necessary early input that they owe their people. I have seen too many leaders who mistake cheerleading for the need to provide competent, proactive, mission-focused requirements. And there are simply too many leaders out there who sit back and HOPE for positive results without providing their teammates the same thing they want from their own leaders -- enough early guidance to get going and the freedom to operate within KNOWN parameters.

Are you familiar with the axiom, "If you want it bad, you'll get it bad?" It implies that you can only put so much demand on the system (or people) before you negatively impact their outputs. Want an answer right now? You'll get one...but it may not be a good one!

The Leader Business corollary I have been struggling with lately goes like this: "If you don't tell people what you'll get exactly what you asked for!" All too often the reason people don't meet our expectations is that we haven't shared those expectations with them...or anyone else! Understanding why our teammates are not delivering should start with deciphering what exactly we have asked from them. If we haven't asked, then we should shoulder the majority of the responsibility when they come up short! THEY AREN'T MIND READERS!!

As leaders, I think we need to regularly examine ourselves and ask if we are providing our teammates sufficient guidance. Do they understand WHAT is required of them? Do they know the key elements or metrics they must meet? Have they acknowledged any constraints we have provided them regarding timeline, resources, priorities, and alternatives to consider...or avoid?

Now, this is a fine line. Note that the focus above is on WHAT to do. Good guidance is empowering, not overbearing. It enables success by freeing people to operate with the confidence that they understand where they are going and any restrictions to their actions. Good guidance provides clearly identified and defined tasks. Goals, objectives, and parameters are similarly presented early in the planning stage. But just across the line is over-control, suppression of good ideas and initiative, and authoritarianism. Good guidance focuses on WHAT, not HOW. Leaders ensure the team clearly sees the goal line while allowing them to determine how to get there. This is the source of empowerment, inspiration, and initiative.

Our teammates are counting on us. We need to shape their efforts early, before they get started. This is so often THE MOST important element of our communication with them. Do they understand their requirements? Do they know what tools they have to work with? Do they understand the mission? Good leaders know they must give sufficient guidance to their team. They reinforce this guidance regularly to ensure everyone understands their vision and the tasks that enable it. They do not HOPE for success without providing the necessary shaping of people's actions that comes from this dialogue.

What are you waiting for? If you don't think you have done so lately...have this conversation with your teammates. Make sure they know your intent. And if you fail to tell them...don't be upset with the outcome. You'll get exactly what asked from them! We can't HOPE for good things from our teammates. Real leadership demands much more. We owe them the sort of guidance that empowers people to solve problems, generate options, and make things happen, that focuses clearly on WHAT so they can determine HOW. Isn't that what YOU want from YOUR boss? That's Leader Business.

1 comment:

Jo Ann said...

Great blog! Here is my rowboat analogy. If every person in a rowboat was rowing at a different pace, the boat might sputter and spin, it might weave back and forth or it might even sink. When employees do not have a clear understanding of their goals or objectives, it is the same as everyone rowing a boat at a different pace. The energy expended by employees without good direction is wasted when this happens and the result affects productivity. When people are rowing a boat at the same pace, it skims over the water easily. . Uniting all employees toward the company’s goals and using clear communication is similar to teaching them all to row in the same direction with a unified stroking pattern. I agree that leadership commitment to establishing an accountability environment is crucial. Without it, performance results will be much less than expected. Lack of clarity when lines of authority or roles and responsibilities are not clear causes performance obligations to fail. Clarity is essential to an accountability relationship.