True leadership is about taking people to a place that they would not go to by themselves. Good leaders provide that by delivering and demonstrating purpose, direction, goals and guidance that is well beyond a supervising role alone. These are the areas that I feel make direction vital to leadership.
Planning and Communication
Direction cannot be given if it is not known by the leader in the first place. And a leader cannot lead if they don’t give a direction for people to follow them. This creates a big requirement to do something about that by using techniques, tools and resources to provide and develop that direction.
- Vision and Mission
- Problem Analysis
- Big Picture Thinking
- Goal Setting
- Involving Others
A leader must take time to plan, think and figure out the direction to steer things. This is not something that is obvious and often the things that seem most obvious tend to be very short sighted with no long term advantages. There is much to consider by a leader for direction and this comes by all the tools listed above and a variety of resources. Direction is certainly not something that should be created by one person (although it can), it is better to use other people’s ideas, hopes and plans in developing a single direction that the leader can use for everyone involved. All of this data from brainstorming sessions, ideas from other individuals, through research, experience or simply grand hopes with visionary ideas needs to be assessed by a leader. Don’t rush this process and make sure that you consider many components of a planned direction.
Ask yourself questions to challenge the direction and make sure you cover all facets of it to everyone involved.
- Does this direction align with the values of those participating?
- What new skills and training will be required to take this route?
- Are there examples or case studies that can be used to model an approach in this direction?
- Are those involved able to accept the changes needed for this?
- Do you have the resources needed to achieve it?
- Is it something that everyone can believe in?
- How will you know that people are following this direction?
- Can you clearly indicate and describe this planned direction?
- Who will be the people most in favor and in doubt of this direction?
- What kind of contingency can you plan for in dealing with resistance or troubles?
These are just a few samples of the types of questions you need to ask yourself to ensure you evaluate as much of the situation as possible. You certainly don’t need to have answers for all of these when planning and setting a new direction, but you should understand what the most difficult areas and unknowns will be to help prepare any followers. That is where communication then plays a huge role.
Communicating during this planning stage with others is vital to ensure you consider their ideas and concerns within the plans and directions you decide on. Involve others as much as possible to keep them included and engaged with the decisions you make. Then once you do finally have the direction planned and decided on, it requires continual communication to ensure it is well understood and followed. Ask questions of others to ensure they understand the plans and the big picture of the contribution they can make individually. It is far easier to lead by ensuring others know your vision so communicate, communicate, communicate!
Leadership is not only about leading in a specific direction, it is also about correcting and steering things back on the right direction when they do get off track. I touched on this in my Persistence article in my Productivity Series that you are really continually steering things with minor adjustments back on track as a leader. However, there time when things have gotten so off course, it is no longer just a simple course correction. There are times to abandon a route altogether and choose an alternate path. A leader must recognize when an individual is heading down a path that is off course and not in the right direction. Running with ideas might seem like the right path but often it leads you further away or way of course from the direction that you have planned. When this occurs, whether is the leader themselves or someone working with that leader, it is the leader’s role to correctly steer things back on course. This can be difficult to do in a way that doesn’t break any respect or trust developed.
"Everybody can get angry – that’s easy. But getting angry at the right person, with the right intensity, at the right time, for the right reason and in the right way – that’s hard." (Aristotle)
Referring to the goals and plans outlined and discussing how things fit with that is a great way to address course corrections. A leader should try to have an individual realize or admin they are off track instead of simply accusing them of that or telling them so. Nobody likes to be told what to do and so this is a critical area for a leader to do exactly that, lead. Being genuine and sincere goes a long way here when correcting someone’s course. Showing compassion for their time and effort spent and appreciation for what they are doing while asking questions about whether it is worth doing or not is useful. You don’t want to be authoritative or a dictator when giving direction and the more you help others steer their own directions appropriately, the more you enable them to hold that path with future ideas and decisions they make.
This can be the trickiest part of leadership to keep things moving in the right direction, to stay on course yourself and to ensure that others are following the same or at least a similar helpful path. The course corrections that are needed alone the way are continuous, will come in varying degrees and must be handled quickly and smoothly for a leader to do well.
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