Direction, Clarity, Support
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You can walk through a bookstore or browse on Amazon and see thousands of books about leadership. Go online, and there are literally billions of references. We’re drowning in leadership advice, and it can be daunting to wade through it all. Well, here’s article number 2,670,000,001 on leadership.
First, who is this article is for?
Here’s the answer:
You don’t have to have people reporting to you in a work environment in order to be a leader. Think about all the responsibilities in your life. I can guarantee that in some aspects, people count on you to lead. It could be within your family, or at your school, or with your friends, or in a workgroup. We all have times where people ask us to lead. Perhaps there’s a leadership void, and someone needs to take charge. Why not you?
Now that we’ve settled that all of us have periods of leadership, what do we need to focus on?
I’m going to tell you what I think are the three most essential leadership pillars, and why I focus on these three.
Direction – what is our north star?
Clarity – what’s in, and what’s out?
Support – resources, motivation, and coaching.
As a leader, it’s your job to communicate a vision for the future. Done well, your vision is both clear and inspiring.
One way to do this is to articulate a “north star” and repeat that message every chance you get. A north star stirs emotion in people, it helps them prioritize and focus, and when you get there, you have something to celebrate.
Articulate a “north star” and repeat that message every chance you get.
What does a north star look like? It’s a clear message which states a big goal and creates an image in people’s minds. For example, JFK said, “This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Super clear. I can see an astronaut on the moon – and also see that same astronaut happily back home.
Here’s another example. It’s for a data analytics team in an engineering group. “By Memorial Day, we’re going to create six online reports that are so informative, fast, and visually appealing, that every morning while team members are drinking their coffee, the first thing they look at are our intuitive reports.” While it’s not landing the first man on the moon, it’s a compelling vision for that team
Things that are not direction are value statements such as, “We make things better every day,” or, “We celebrate curiosity and intellect.” While these may be solid values that you embrace, they don’t articulate a goal, a timeframe, or paint a picture.
When you have a clear direction, you can not only motivate your teammates, but you can also inspire others to help you or even join your endeavor. This leads to stronger partnerships, new recruits, and the re-recruitment of your current team members.
Remember – repeat your vision every chance you get. You may feel like a broken record, but you are burning the message into people’s heads and demonstrating your commitment to the vision. And when the team sees this high level of commitment, they are in turn inspired and motivated.
A leader must remove ambiguity whenever possible. It’s tough for a team to function in a world of grey, so draw clear lines and state things in black and white. You’ve all heard the adage, “Given the choice between the right decision, the wrong decision, and no decision – no decision is the worst one.” Unblock your team and make a decision, communicate it, and move on. If you’re wrong, then learn from it and correct it.
In all endeavors, there are times where things are ambiguous, or people are conflicted about what to do. As a leader, you must cut through the fog and provide clarity – especially goals and non-goals. This isn’t easy to do well, and usually requires a lot of discussion and iteration with other leaders and key stakeholders. The investment in time and energy is worth it because clarity enables the team to execute with confidence. They know they are working on the right thing, at the right time, and that their efforts align with leadership.
Clarity can take many forms:
- Goals and Non-Goals
- Boundaries and Constraints
- Schedule and Deadlines
- Ownership Definition
In the context of overall leadership, I think clarity of goals and non-goals is the most important. You must articulate as precisely as you can what is and is not part of the plan. This enables people to make better independent decisions and function with confidence.
Leaders support their teams by giving them what they need in the way they need it. There are many components to this.
People can rarely do their jobs without a set of tools, money, or even other people. A leader needs to ask their teammates what resources they’re lacking and assess that ask. Then either provide those resources or, if constrained, devise a creative solution to fill the resource gap.
Sometimes people can’t complete their tasks because there’s a barrier in front of them that’s too difficult to overcome. It may be a problem they don’t know how to solve, a difficult person, or an unmade decision. No matter what it is, a leader should help their teammate remove that barrier so they can move forward.
This can range from a supportive “Keep it up. You’re doing great.”, to a proverbial kick-in-the-pants, “I know you’re not doing your best. You can do better.” Everyone on your team is an individual. It’s up to you to figure out what motivates them and tailor your approach to fit their needs.
It’s up to you to figure out what motivates them and tailor your approach to fit their needs.
When there are skills gaps, help your team by getting them the training they need. They’ll develop into better team members, and they’ll appreciate that you are supporting them by fueling their growth.
Much of the work we do is collaborative and requires a broad network of people. One of the best things you can do is to give your teammates access to your network. Look for ways that a simple introduction can propel someone forward. They will remember and appreciate that support forever.
Give Air Cover
It’s when times are tough that our teammates need our support the most. Give them room to get their work done by protecting them from critics, removing distractions, and endorsing their work to other influential people.
As a leader, you must have the mindset that “I’m here to serve my team.” This thinking must permeate all of your actions. People often misconstrue leadership as “I’m the leader, so everyone will do my bidding since they are the followers.” Wrong. You are in service to your teammates. And the best way to serve them is to give direction, drive clarity, and provide support.
In 2018, I published my 11 most important lessons from Microsoft email, and over 25,000 people read it and forwarded it to their friends and colleagues. Many people asked me to write in more depth about the topics in the email, so that’s what I’m doing at AlexHinrichs.com.