This week’s post was written by Jack Woelber.
For those of you who have gone through Interstates’ Excellence In Leadership (EIL) program, “setting direction” should be a very familiar term. For those who have not yet been through EIL, one of the acronyms regularly used in our training is SAM. The “S” stands for setting direction. It is one of the major tenets in the model Interstates uses when training employees on leadership.
Why is setting direction critical?
You may have heard the saying, “I’m their leader, which way did they go?” Most employees are more than willing to work hard, but without direction, you might not know which way they are going. Directionless, their work can be unmotivated and less beneficial to the organization. When clear direction is established while leading operations, employees will display more purpose and can add more value by contributing their own ideas. When a leader fails in setting direction, employees can carry out a task but are limited on how much they can ultimately help.
How do we communicate a clear direction?
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Just because I said it doesn’t mean they heard it”? This is so true regarding setting direction. You may feel like you have laid out a clear direction for your team, but without confirmation and follow up, it may have not been “heard.” Communicating the direction may take multiple efforts in different ways for your team to truly “see” the direction. Everyone learns and understands through different methods, and it is up to you to be sure you have done a good job of setting an understandable direction. Having an effective rapport with your team and allowing them to feel comfortable asking clarifying questions can be a major asset in ensuring they understand the direction.
Another way to set clear direction is creating goals and stretch goals. This format can “paint” a direction for the team to understand. By having them participate in setting those goals, employees have buy-in and know what they can do to help reach those goals. With everyone pulling in the same direction with clarity, the chances of getting there are much higher.
Sometimes there are multiple ways to get to the same destination. When setting direction, we need to take into consideration the resources we have available to us in time, energy, and money. Choosing the best way may not always be the least expensive or the quickest, but we need to determine if we can achieve our goals within the boundaries of our limited resources. If not, we may have to adjust our direction to achieve what we can within our “budget.”
Direction versus vision
One might wonder why setting direction is under the category of leading operations rather than leading strategy. Using Interstates’ lingo, Leading Strategy involves casting a vision. Setting direction needs to align with the vision and the strategy but refers more to leading operations than leading strategy. While these two things are closely related and need to reinforce each other, both are unique elements of leadership.
Setting direction is critical to leadership at Interstates. In our leadership training we spend a lot of time and energy talking about and training on it. My challenge to you is to consciously think about setting direction in a way that gets everyone pulling in the same direction with a common goal.
Keep leading the Interstates way!