Setting Direction


In our leadership training class, EIL, one of the acronyms regularly used is SAM. The “S” stands for setting direction. It is one of the major tenets in the model Interstates uses when training team members on leadership.

Why is setting direction critical?

You may have heard the saying, “I’m their leader; which way did they go?” Most team members are more than willing to work hard, but you might not know which way they are going without direction. Directionless, their work can be unmotivated and less beneficial to the organization. When a clear path is established while leading operations, team members will display more purpose and value by contributing their own ideas. When a leader fails in setting direction, team members 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 not have been “heard.” Communicating the course may take multiple efforts in different ways for your team to truly “see” the direction. Everyone learns and understands through other methods, and it is up to you to be sure you have done a good job setting an understandable direction. Having an effective rapport with your team and making them feel comfortable asking clarifying questions can be a major asset in understanding the path.

Another way to set clear direction is by creating goals and stretch goals. This format can “paint” a focus for the team to understand. By having them participate in setting those goals, team members 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.

Limited resources!

Sometimes there are multiple ways to get to the same destination. When setting direction, we need to consider our resources 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 the direction is under the category of leading operations rather than leading strategy. Using Interstates’ terminology, the 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 setting direction. My challenge is to consciously think about setting a focus that gets everyone pulling in the same direction with a common goal.

Keep leading the Interstates Way!

Jack Woelber


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