Providing Direction, NOT Directions: 10 Simple Steps

leadingothers providedirection Jul 27, 2022

“Direction is the far-away destination to which you are heading.

Directions are route you will take to get there.”

Simon Sinek

In our Intentional Leadership Class, we discuss in detail what I have found to be the four key elements of leadership: Providing Direction; Building Teams; Being Intentional; and Getting Ahead of your day. Over the next few weeks of blog posts, I’m going to go more in-depth as to each of these. Not to the level I do in class, nor to the level we do in our upcoming post-class e-Course, but this will start to show you why each of these have been important to my growth as a leader. I also believe it will for you as well.

This week, we will start with Providing Direction. This is different from giving directions (as the quote above from Simon Sinek suggests. When you give directions, you are detailing “how” you wish a task to be performed. It often includes step-by-step instructions of what to do from start to finish. While this is important for certain aspects of any job, it is not what I mean when I state that the number one thing a leader must provide is direction. Trust me, everyone is looking for direction and your people want that most from you as their leader.

Providing direction means starting with the “why” of what you want accomplished. It provides context for them. It allows for them to ask questions to determine “how” they might best achieve the desired outcome, but it does NOT TELL them how to do it. When a leader provides good direction to their people, they are empowering them to create the most effective outcome for the organization. It’s truly the best way to ensure that you get diversity of thinking when solving an issue. It also shows great trust from you as their leader that you believe they can achieve the best outcome. So, you say, this sounds great, but exactly how does a leader know they are providing direction to their people? Well, I have 10 simple steps that will help you understand what I mean.

  • Know your team – what are their abilities (and weaknesses). This means understanding each of them on a deeper level. What are their goals? What is their personality? What will help them push out of their comfort zone? Understand what each member of your team can and cannot do.
  • Play to their strengths – once you have gotten to know your team members as to their strengths and weaknesses, give them direction that will help them play to their strengths and do your best to match them to the expectations you have. Remember, the best gift you can give your people is by seeing them for their potential, not where they currently are. Helping them use their strengths to achieve greater skills and abilities, will build their confidence and grow them as a future leader.
  •  Be Specific – when outlining what the finish line looks like, be specific. Something like by the end of the calendar year; I want to see a 10% reduction in automobile accidents in the central district of the city.You are clearly stating the goal and the “direction” you want it to go, but you have not told them how to get there. You are trusting that they have the knowledge, skills, and ability to provide the pathway to achieve that goal.
  •  Always Start with the “why”- Great leaders always lead with “why” something is important. It provides transparency to the team and gives them buy-in to achieving the goal. Giving the why provides flexibility to the team in how it is achieved AND reduces the team’s reliance on you by giving them ownership of the issue and the motivation to achieve the goal.
  •  Provide the ‘vision’ – This is like the why, it expands to a greater overarching goal as to why the why is important. When you give the vision, you are seeing of the future, the team is more internally motivated to achieve success. Leaders who successfully share the vision, tend to have more intrinsically motivated team members.
  •  Ask the Team to Plan the Route – when you place your trust in the hands of the team to achieve success, you are creating a win-win situation for all involved. The team feels that you trust them to achieve success; you are creating synergy by involving a diversity of thinking and problem-solving from team members to achieve the best possible outcome because your team feels ownership of finding the right outcome. This increases the chances for success and builds both your and their leadership skills.
  •  Plan for Change – great leaders always build into any scenario the need to address unexpected or urgent problems that may arise. Be sure you and the team give yourself the space to adequately adjust or re-adjust these types of situations to enable the best chance for success. There is no doubt that even the best-laid plans will inevitably have something that delays or alters the outcome. Just plan for it and you will be surprised how well things work out!
  •  Trust but Verify – A great President once said this, but it still rings true today! Yes, you want to always lead by showing great trust in your team, but verification should not wait until the last day of the project! Have checkpoints along the way where you can verify progress and help the team make any adjustments needed to keep or get them back on track. Be available for questions always so that you and they know that this is a true team effort.
  •  Provide reinforcement and praise their success – Great leaders always praise good ideas; supporting each other; or for showing the right behavior for team success. How or when you provide positive reinforcement and praise is up to you. Some prefer to do it publicly while other leaders will choose more one-on-one approach to offering praise. The goal is to be sure the praise is worthy of it and that you show authenticity when you give it. I have found that praising more than criticizing is the best way to grow a happy and productive team. Yes, there will be times to criticize or, as I like to say, challenge the team to think more deeply, but the important thing is to offer constructive not destructive feedback.
  •  Use their results – If you have truly provided the direction and followed these steps, this last one is a natural outcome. You use the results the team develops in solving the problem; resolving an issue; or developing a new idea. When you as a leader embrace the work of your team and give public credit for what was developed, you grow them as team members and yourself as a leader. Using their outcomes means their work was valued and their efforts meaningful. This will lead them to be even more enthusiastic and proactive in tackling future projects.

Providing direction is truly what everyone wants. You as a leader want it and, in turn, you owe your people the direction you see for their professional future. Providing clarity and direction create a process that leads to results. Following these ten steps are just the beginning of becoming a significant leader in your organization. Finding ways to do each to grow as many future leaders as possible in your organization is the real magic. So, find what works best for you and your team members. Take the time to know each and what they each see as their future and then help them get there!

Afterall, the rent you pay as a leader are the number and type of leaders you leave behind.


Note: Next week’s blog will be on the importance of Being Intentional as a leader.

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