Communicating expectations

Jerry Wiser liked this post

communicate expectationsThere are four steps that successful leaders take in communicating expectations:

Write them out – Clearly define your expectations

Hand them out – Overtly explain your expectations

Point them out – Verbally reinforce your expectations

Live them out – Openly demonstrate your expectations

Imagine you start a new job.  You are anxious to hear communication from the top; what is the vision of company?  The head of your division steps up to the front of the room, clears his throat and says, “You are all doing a great job, keep it up.  If you need me I will be in my office.”

Do you have any idea what is expected of you?  What will you do first? How will you know if you are on the right track for success? Was there any communication at all?

Now imagine you are a rookie wide receiver on the 1980 San Francisco 49ers.  In walks Bill Walsh, the head coach, who hands you a playbook and the first twenty-five plays of the next game fully scripted.  He also hands out something called his “Standards of Performance” which lists requirements for your job such as: a commitment to learning and teaching, self-control under pressure, a positive attitude, and continuous improvement.

You read the playbook and your handouts overnight to prepare for your first day of practice.  Later in the week you are surprised when Bill Walsh himself runs over in the middle of a drill to correct your squad and the assistant coach.  He fully explains the route you were supposed to run and why it is important that it be carried out just as it was scripted. 

Now that was leadership communication.  You were given written communication that described exactly what was expected.  This was followed up by verbal communication to reinforce expectations.

Theodore Hesburgh said, “The very essence of leadership is that you have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”

Leaders shouldn’t expect their teams to achieve unseen and unheard expectations.  

Now let’s examine the last step, the one where the best leaders spend most of their time – how to demonstrate your expectations. This one is a very quick discussion.

Leaders must realize that their team will do what the leader says until the leader doesn’t do what the leader says.

Ralph Waldo Emerson described the last step like this, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

Communicating as a leader

art of communicationDo you have to be good at communicating to be a successful leader? The simple answer is yes you do.  When asked about the importance of communication in leadership here is what a few past leaders had to say:

Gilbert Amelio, a pioneer in the U.S. technology industry and former President and CEO of National Semiconductor Corp. said, “Developing excellent communication skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership.”

Author and former presidential speech writer James Humes answered the question succinctly when he said, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.”

And Lee Iacocca, former Chrysler CEO said, “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.”

So you are a leader or you want to be a leader someday but you have trouble communicating.  Can a person who has trouble communicating be a leader?  Again the simple answer is yes you can.

Listed below are the four areas that all great communicators focus on.  Learn them and you will be successfully communicating as a leader.

Communicating with a purpose. Can you summarize the purpose of your message in one sentence?  If you can’t, then your audience won’t understand the main point.  You have heard some speakers say, “If you only take away one thing this is it…”  Before you start any form of communication you have to know the purpose.  It’s like Stephen Covey said, “Start with the end in mind.”

The purpose of communication is always to elicit an emotional response meant to inspire action.

That action may be very short term, like getting a laugh or tugging at the heart.  The action could be longer term like embarking on the first step of a life changing journey.

Knowing the purpose of your communication is foundational if you want to communicate like a leader.

Communicating with a plan. Now that you clearly defined the purpose of your communication it’s time to plan how you will accomplish that purpose.

Here a few keys to include in your plan:

Be an expert in the facts before you share the facts. This is not a new concept.  First century Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak.

Carefully select your words.  As Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

Entertain, encourage, and end on time. Not only will the current audience appreciate you, they might also be a future audience.  The great British leader Benjamin Disraeli had advice for communicators: “Be amusing: never tell unkind stories; above all, never tell long ones.”

Communicating with practice.  Once you have your purpose and plan, it’s time to practice. The more you communicate the better you will get. According to master communicator Brian Tracy, “Communication is a skill like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life”

Even after communicating as a leader myself for over twenty-five years, I never step in front of an audience without reviewing and practicing what I am going to communicate.

Communicating with passion Your communication is not complete unless the people who heard it feel enlightened, equipped, and energized to do something with your message right now. 

If you want your audience to have passion about your message then you need to have passion about your message first.  You may be an expert in the facts, but are you committed to the message.  Do you believe it? More importantly do you live it?

Jim Rohn said it like this, “Effective communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about what you know.”


Should you be the boss or the leader?

boss adds to load leader lessens the loadYou’re in charge.  You are responsible for delivering the results.  Does it matter if you are called the Boss or the Leader? As long as your team performs and hits the bottom line should you be concerned with such trivial matters?

If you are new to this area of being in charge, you will quickly find that,

How you achieve the results matters as much as if you achieve the results.”  - Denis G. McLaughlin

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The most powerful leader is one part of the team

orchestra conductor one part of the teamThe truly powerful leader understands that they are joining the individual strengths of a team into a common purpose.

The leader is the organizer, the arranger, the conductor. Like a world class symphony orchestra, it takes a group of individuals playing their part of the same song with their particular instrument to create beautiful music. The musicians have the violins, oboes, trumpets, and tympani – the conductor has the baton.

The great leaders are like the best conductors – they reach beyond the notes to reach the magic in the players.” - Blaine Lee

 Leadership is achieving success through the actions of others. The truly powerful leaders set the stage so the strengths of the team can ring loud and clear.  The leader’s success is the success of each member of the team.

 A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.” – Max Lucado


Does a leader need power to lead?

leadership power - John MaxwellThe simple answer –Yes, leaders need power to lead.  John Maxwell said, “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” Therefore, you need power in order to influence others if you want to be an effective leader.

The follow up question that we will explore is what kind of power does a leader need to lead?

There are two kinds of leadership power: those that fade and those that last.

Leadership Power that fades

These are the most often discussed, and unfortunately sometimes the most relied upon forms of Leadership Power. Let’s look at them and see why their effectiveness fades away in time if they are the only method used to influence others.

The Power of Position.  In this case, the leader has influence because of their position in the company.  They are in charge and can ask others to take actions based on that position.  This type of power fades as there is no sense of commitment or connection to a greater good. People only follow because they have to, not because they want to. 

“Leadership is action, not position.” – Donald H. McGannon

The Power of Perks.  All leaders can give away perks: raises, bonuses, vacation etc… None of these is bad in and of itself but realize as a leader, you will get the behavior you incent.  Your influence with this type of power fades as the commitment isn’t to the ultimate outcome, but to the immediate individual benefits.  When you rely too much on rewards you may find that people are working only for their rewards, which means decisions may be made that do not reflect the best answer for the team, company, customer, or shareholder.

 “The reward of a thing well done is having done it.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Power of Punishment.  This is the opposite of the power of perks.  This enforces consequences for behavior you don’t want.  While your influence with this power will lead to short-term compliance, it will eventually create an atmosphere of insecurity and fear. People will become so afraid to make a mistake they will cease to make decisions and only do what they are specifically told by the leader.

“Nothing is more deflating to morale than to have a poor outcome pinned on someone who doesn’t deserve it.  It lacks integrity and overvalues the outcome at the expense of the people.” – Tony Dungy

Leadership Power that lasts

The types of Leadership Power which last, are not often seen as power.  In Leadership Power that lasts, the power is shared with others and not maintained by the leader.

The Power of Empowerment.  The true measure of a successful leader isn’t what they have – power, possessions, prestige – it is the legacy of empowering other leaders to achieve their own success.  Your success as a leader is defined by how many successful leaders you have helped grow.  Your influence as a leader will grow because of the success of those you influenced.

 “Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.” – John Maxwell

The Power of Character.  This is who you are inside.  Your intentions and your actions point in the same direction – helping others’ succeed.  With the power of your character you can influence people because of their respect for you.

“A leader…has authority due to their role, but their positional power will not bring about good for individuals or organizations unless it is backed up by the capital of character.” — Dan B. Allender

The Power of Conduct.  As a leader you and your team will face many tough circumstances.  You will need to influence them to not just survive, but thrive through these times.  Your conduct will be the key to their success.  When you remain calm, focused on the vision, and help your team find a plan the power of your conduct will be evident.

 “Circumstances are beyond human control, but our conduct is our power.” – Benjamin Disraeli

Lead with integrity

toungue in mouth and shoeYour example is the best teacher of integrity for those who are watching – and believe me, your followers are watching.  They may hear every word of advice you give, but unless they see you living out your own advice it won’t stick. 

“Make sure the tongue in your shoes goes the same direction as the tongue in your mouth.” - Ken Whitten

Your example is also the best teacher for yourself.  Unless you keep the bar of success high; you will never know what you are capable of achieving.

“Remember that the bigger the goal, the stronger a person you must become to achieve that goal.”  - Robin Sharma

What does it mean then to lead with integrity - even when you don’t want to, have to, or need to?

What if I don’t want to lead with integrity? It will be difficult. You will face challenges.  Isn’t there anyone else who can do this?

There are times in our careers and our lives, when we wish someone else would step up and lead.  “Don’t I deserve to just sit this one out?” We say. You’re in charge for a reason my friend – you are good at it.  You are gifted in your ability to lead.  If you are the leader, then you have to lead. 

“Leadership – it’s not about rights, it’s about responsibility.”  - Denis G. McLaughlin

What if I don’t have to lead with integrity? No one will know. It’s only once and you will do it next time.

Vince Lombardi said, “Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” Brian Alden learned how to lead by studying great leaders like Lombardi.  He found that “Leaders with a history of success have developed a habit of working hard to achieve their success.” Don’t make choices based on other’s knowledge of your choices; make them based on your habit of hard work.

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

What if I don’t need to lead with integrity? Everyone will understand. No one expects you to be perfect.

It’s true that no one really expects anyone to be perfect, you included.  Will everyone understand if I make a mistake? For the most part, yes.  But you want your legacy to be more than “He wasn’t perfect.”  I would rather my epitaph be something like, “He always gave his best effort.”  If I let someone down, it won’t be because I didn’t try to do my best. That is the example I want to set for my team.

“The proof of your character comes through in the lives of those on whom you have an impact.”- Denis G. McLaughlin

Leaders: Faced with an ethical dilemma?

ethics picture Potter StewartHow do you lead when you are faced with a decision where the option that works in favor of the bottom line is not the most ethical?  Here are three thoughts that will lead you to the right decision:

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, former said, “Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.”  A man who invested twenty-three years of his life deciding cases on the foundation of law, had strong opinions on doing the right thing not just the lawful thing. 

Never decide what you should do based on what you can do – it’s not the same.  Your decisions should always be based on what is right for all involved.  This is not to say that everyone will like your decision.  But if you can say you were honest and forthright in your dealings and provided opportunity for everyone to succeed, than you did what you should.

You’re not just in this for the money – it’s about the people.  Singularly focusing on maximizing short term profits is not the sole intent of business.  Are you providing a balanced life for your employees?  Are you giving back to the community in which you conduct business?  Are you’re shareholders proud to be associated with your company? You could even ask if people are seen wearing t-shirts with your company logo embroidered on it – now that says something.  What is the total impact of your company’s existence?

 “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.”­ – Henry Ford

 Short term gain achieved with less than ethical behavior will lead to long term failure.  Never underestimate the memory of people who were impacted by unethical decisions – either benefiting or losing in the end.  No matter the outcome, you will have lost the trust and confidence of everyone involved.  If you made an unethical choice in this area, what’s to stop you from making an unethical choice somewhere else?

 “If once you forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem.” – Abraham Lincoln

So, how do you lead when you are faced with a decision where the option that works in favor of the bottom line is not the most ethical? You make the ethical decision – end of story.

Are people born leaders or nurtured?

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joy of leadership is helping others succeedWe all know larger than life leaders.  Those we think are born leaders.  They are frequently on television, the internet, and newspapers.  We have studied them in the history books.  They are the Presidents, CEOs, Head Coaches, and Generals that command our attention.  If you are not just like these leaders, then you must not be a born leader.  So how did they get where they are?

Vince Lombardi said, “Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”  I agree with Lombardi, that leaders are truly made.  Here are a few ideas on what makes great leaders:

True leadership lies in guiding others to success.”- Bill Owens

A good objective of leadership[ is to help those who are doing poorly to do well, and to help those who are doing well do even better.” – Jim Rohn

“True leadership must be for the benefit of the followers, not the enrichment of the leaders.” – Robert Townsend

Management is about arranging and telling.  Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.”- Tom Peters

We are all gifted with abilities that if used to their fullest can help others succeed – and that is the definition of leadership.  The nurturing comes in the seeing of what true leadership really is.

“No one is born as a leader, but everyone is born to lead.”


Learn from past mistakes – preferably someone else’s.

learn from the mistakes of othersFred Brooks, the man who managed the development of IBM’s System/360 family of computers knows a thing or two about learning from mistakes, he wrote the book on it. Brooks wrote about his experiences managing systems development at IBM in the book The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering. 

The book coined what is known as “Brook’s law,” which states that “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.” Brooks discovered this law when he himself added more programmers to a project falling behind schedule, then concluded that it delayed the project even further. Using this and other examples of what he learned in his career, Brooks is quoted as saying, “Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.”

What are you doing to prepare yourself for leadership?  Making some mistakes on your own is inevitable and one way to learn; but learning from the mistakes of others is the easier route. 

As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live enough to make them all yourself.”


The four biggest mistakes that leaders make.

mistake-quote photography negativesYou’re the leader.  You are in charge.  Your team depends on your decisions.  Maybe the entire company depends on your decisions.  Can you afford to make mistakes?  Truth be told, leaders can’t afford to not make mistakes.

Read on to see what great leaders say are the four biggest mistakes that leaders make:

Not trying for fear of making a mistake. “Because that is the way we have always done it.” That has to be one of the most annoying answers to the question, “Why do we do…that way?” What the person is really saying is, “I am afraid to try something new because it might not work.”  Remember, if you are trying to improve you are trying something new, different, hopefully better.  Of course you will make some mistakes, that’s what happens when we try to do something we haven’t done before.  If you don’t try something new, you won’t have the opportunity to improve

One thing is certain in business: you will make mistakes.  When you are pushing the boundaries, mistakes are inevitable. Richard Branson

Giving up after making a mistake.  Ok, so you tried something new and it didn’t work as you had hoped – so what.  You are still farther ahead than before you tried because you now know what doesn’t work.

I am not discouraged because every wrong attempt discarded is a step forward. Thomas Edison

Not admitting when they make a mistake.  Make it part of your culture to try new things and openly review the outcomes together as a team.  Like football teams that review yesterday’s game film to look for opportunities to improve, make this a positive event that is used to make the next attempt better. 

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes.  It’s best to admit them quickly and get on with improving your other innovations.”­ – Steve Jobs

Not learning from their mistakes.  Mistakes are only useful if they are used as a means for improvement.  Making mistakes is fine, repeating the same mistake is not.

The successful man will profit from his mistakes and try again in a different way. Dale Carnegie


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