To Follow the Leader, Employees Need a Sense of Direction

Most employees want to know where their leaders are headed before they’ll follow with energy and enthusiasm. But if they can’t tell where you’re going or how you plan to get there, they’ll feel like they’re being left to wander — or even being abandoned — and they’ll become disheartened or disillusioned.

So if you’re the leader, how can you get everyone on a single path — not in lockstep, but headed in the same general, purposeful direction?

The Leadership Compass

You probably need to be more a little more assertive about what you want from your employees — not necessarily more commanding, just clearer. And it will be most effective if you take a slightly different approach from the typical sequence of vision-> strategy-> goals. That progression is just dandy when everyone is on plan and making good progress, but it won’t work when people are feeling uncertain.

When staff members feel confused, it helps to give them some concrete directions to navigate by. Most people feel reassured to learn what’s expected and what’s happening. Your very directness will reduce their speculation and unease and stop any whining or rumors.

The 3 Vectors of a Workplace Roadmap

Stress priorities first, because people want to know what to expect and what to do. Make sure that the priorities are specific, tangible, clear, and comprehensible within each work group. That means you need to understand the responsibilities of each work group well enough to account for their importance and their critical path. You also need to understand what the leaders below you have to accomplish, and make sure that they are setting those priorities clearly for their people.

Remind everyone what the individual, team, and organizational goals are — they’re the very reasons that the priorities exist. Draw connections between the priorities and the goals to explain why everyone’s work is important and why their work should matter to them as well as to others throughout the organization. Then everyone can recognize that what you want them to accomplish today and this month are linked and matched to future intent and big-picture thinking. It’s a way of showing their part of the action in context, and letting them see that the sum of everyone’s parts adds up to the big achievements of the entire organization.

Next, emphasize the cultural norms and valueshow everyone should behave as they go about their jobs and how they get the work done and chalk up a variety of accomplishments. Typically, these rules about how colleagues are expected to treat each other and how managers should treat workers are unwritten; making them explicit makes it more likely they’ll be followed.

Working Toward Your Destination

Priorities, goals, and cultural norms and values are the what, why, and how of every work group.  Concreteness and specificity are crucial, because if employees can’t figure out what you want from them, they’re likely to perceive your goals as being unreachable, pie in the sky — lovely ideas, but too distant to matter.

Until people are clear and comfortable about what you want, why it matters, and how you expect them to behave, they won’t understand where you’re taking them. And if that’s the case, you won’t be leading them anywhere except around in circles.

Onward and upward,


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