August 26

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Leadership hack – 005 giving clear direction

Why are we surprised when a piece of work comes back and it was not what we were expecting?  There are two possible reasons.  The first is that the person you asked to do the work did not understand what was expected of them.  The second is that the person you asked lacked the skill or will to get the work done.  As I have already discussed skill and will in another post, I want to focus on the first problem – getting others to understand what you want.

In the military, the two most important parts of a set of orders are the mission statement (always repeated twice) and the commanders intent.

Mission statement is a clear and direct order to a subordinate.  It involves issuing a task, or series of tasks, which should be phased out outcomes to be achieved, rather than things to do done.

The Commanders intent is a concise and precise statement of what the commander intends to do and why; expressed as the outcomes that they intend to achieve.

With these two pieces of information (the what and the why)  it is possible for others to understand what is expected of them.  In the military further guidance is given to guide approach, but this is always subservient to the mission and the intent.

However, all is not plain sailing.  There are many occasions (especially out slide the military where the what or why may be ambiguous.  Working out the what and the why also takes time and effort, and it takes more time to make sure that the what (mission statement) and why (intent) is understood by other.

In conclusion, there are several reasons that other may not complete work to your expectations.   As a leader, one of the reasons is you.  If you have not invested the time to ensure that others understand the what and the why, you cannot expect them to deliver exactly what you are expecting.  A tool to improve your ability to communicate, is to clearly set out the outcomes needed (the what – a mission statement), and also explain how this work contributes to what you are trying to achieve (the why – an intent).