"Always describe a path to success."
This is common advice for leaders.In its most tactical form, it means
"Do not leave a meeting without letting everyone there know what they are expected to do or deliver next."
And in its most strategic form, it means
"Do not expect your employees to do things without setting a clear goal post for them to reach."
Now, there are two ways to slice the strategic form.
1. You can describe the path from A to Z as just two endpoints — A and Z, where you are and where you want to end up.
2. Or you can describe the path from A to Z as A - B - C- D - E - F - G... all the way to Z.
What approach you take depends on the kind of team you're working with.
Creatives often prefer approach 1 as it leaves the path to the solution completely open and full of possibilities. They might see approach 2 as micromanagement. But more process- and execution-oriented folks who like more clarity around what needs to be done will prefer approach 2.
Whatever approach you decide to go with based on your team, the point is this:
Every clear directive you issue is a gift because it relieves your staff of the stress of having to divine your goals. A clear directive is an indication of trust: your way of saying
"I have taken the time and effort to figure out our goal. You now have the knowledge and resources to figure out the process."
When you define the problems, you not only control the direction of the company, you also free your staff to do what they do best: dedicate their unique skills to their solution. Even if your team can't come up with a concrete solution by themselves, they will often come up with a number of better ideas that are aligned with the spirit of the goal.
Now, you might ask,
"Why consider your team as only a bunch of people who run from A to Z and not people who decide what Z should be?"
Valid question. My answer:
In any company, there are two kinds of leaders:
- The visionaries, who are good at seeing the bigger picture and deciding what points A and Z should be.
- The operators, who are good at taking the company from A to Z.
The way you turn operators into visionaries is by helping them improve their judgment. And you do this by accompanying each decision you make with a thorough explanation of the thought process and reasoning that got you there. The most valuable form of leverage in any company is having good judgment. And the way you let your teammates know what good judgment looks like and how to develop that muscle is by thinking and reasoning out loud.
This is also a big part of describing the path to success and getting full buy-in from everyone in your team.
In my view, the end goal of management is not having to manage your team at all. You do that by helping them get better at making good decisions and taking good calls. But to get there, you need to first describe the path and describe why that specific path and not any other.
Never leave your team guessing as to what you want. Make it clear, get their buy-in, and move with speed. A concrete road allows for much faster travel than a muddy and ill-defined road. And it's easier to build momentum as a team if you're not stopping and second-guessing where you're going at every step of the way.