Your Leadership Compass

I am of the opinion that the presidential election process goes on far too long. But that is not the topic of these posts.

As I listened to the discussions about the “debates,” it occurred to me that there are two questions I would like to ask each candidate. First: “Who are you?” “Do you have a sense of identity?” “What is it that makes you tick?” “Who is the real you?” And second, “Do you understand and intend to support and live by the bylaws of the organization (i.e. the Constitution of the United States of America)?” “How have you demonstrated that support up to this moment?”

Since these are two very distinct topics, I propose to address them separately. This will deal with first questions. The second, To Form a More Perfect Union?, will follow in the next few days.


A good leader has a sense of identity. That identity is a rock-solid foundation for the leader’s thoughts and actions.

Skilled mariners, both in sea and in sky, learn to chart a course using map and compass and other important instruments. They learn to find true north to guide them in their journey, and they learn to rely on other landmarks as well.


In a similar fashion, a leader should know how to find his way, even in the midst of storms and chaos. If a leader has no sense of his true direction, he will be unable to chart a course that will lead his organization to safety. Without that sense of direction, he will simply be at the mercy of the winds and currents, driven by external forces.

In a ship, this loss of direction usually leads to disaster. It is no different in an organization that has lost its way.


If a leader wants to be able to guide his team through the storms that organizations and businesses will inevitably encounter, he must have a true north, an undeviating set of principles and values to direct him. When times are tough, the leader’s internal compass or GPS must be able to detect that true north consistently.

This holds true for all leaders, whether they are leading a small business, a large corporation, a volunteer organization, family, or a nation. It is impossible to stand firm if one does not know where he stands. True leadership must begin with a firm, reliable foundation.

So I would ask each of the presidential candidates to give me a straight answer. What are the undeviating principles that you have built your life on? Can you define them? Are you true to them? Will you continue to be true to them?

My guess is that few of them can give a direct answer to such questions. If that is the case, they are unfit to lead on any level. If one cannot provide a straight answer to questions about character, it would be unrealistic to expect straight leadership.

A good leader has a fixed, constant guiding star, and knows how to navigate by it.


Take the Lead in Preparing


Disasters, either natural or man-made, pose a year-round threat to most of us. A good leader will prepare for the unexpected in order to be ready to guide his team through a disaster.

Potential disasters will vary from one region to another. In my area, the greatest threat is posed by earthquakes or human-caused disasters. Wildfires and flash flooding are also potential threats. Hurricanes and ice storms are highly unlikely for us. While we can’t adequately prepare for every possible disaster, we can take basic steps to ensure that we are ready.

There a several steps a good leader can take to help his team be prepared.

  1. Plan

A leader must have a general emergency plan in place. In 30 years, I have experienced two significant earthquakes while at work. This taught me what I need to do if it happens again. Risk assessment is important. I have surveyed each office I have worked in so that I knew the best exit routes and how far from the building I needed to be in order to be safe. This included surveying for overhead power lines and other potential hazards. You don’t want to walk from one hazard into another one. I have rehearsed the process in my mind, but I didn’t stop there.

2. Train

It is important to make sure that your team understands expectations and how to act in an emergency. There will also be concerns specific to each type of team or business.

You will all need to keep your cool and be of assistance to visitors and others who are onsite. Knowing evacuation routes and meeting places is critical. It is also important to know when not to evacuate.

One example: I work next to a major railway freight line. One of our possible concerns is a derailment with hazardous materials. We cannot evacuate if there is a hazardous material concern outside, unless the building itself is in danger.

3. Delegate assignments

Each team member should have a responsibility. For example, someone can take charge of inspecting your facility for potential hazards. Someone can monitor expiration dates on emergency supplies. Someone has to take the lead during an evacuation. Someone could grab the first-aid kit or a “go-bag” on their way out. And someone needs to be designated as the last one out. And don’t forget those who will need assistance.

These responsibilities as well as others that you may identify should be assigned and understood. Even as a dentist and a faculty member, I have a specific emergency responsibility in our clinic. And people respect this uniform!

The managing partner, hard at work.

4. Prepare supplies

When we think about supplies, first aid supplies come to mind first. But other items will assist our team as well. A supply of emergency food and water may be beneficial. A set of clothing and sturdy walking shoes in a small duffel bag can be beneficial if you and your team dress professionally.

5. Regularly update information and training

The prepared leader will have contact information for his or her entire team, and for their family members or significant others. Contact information should include various media types, e.g. email addresses, cell numbers, even social media info. In a pinch, you want to have all the possibilities covered. Communication during and after the emergency is critical.

Think about this: some disasters will occur while we are not at work. It may become important to contact your team to tell them not to come to work in some situations.

Remember also that training is not a one-time event. A good leader will set aside time to retrain and refresh skills, as well as to bring new team members up to speed.

A good leader will ensure that he and his team are ready to face a disaster. And we should think about more than just the human element. What about data backups and important documents? If you plan ahead and make use of available resources, you will be able to face an emergency with confidence.Emergency_Preparedness

Please note that this is meant to be an overview only. Due the variations in leadership situations, businesses, geographic locations and potential disasters, I cannot cover all the possibilities. You must make relevant preparations for your own situation. For more information, checklists, and training materials, see, or websites for your state, province, or local disaster agencies or the Red Cross. British Columbia has an outstanding website for my Canadian friends. There are also many commercial entities who can provide helpful resources for your preparedness needs.

Where seldom is heard a discouraging word?


Language has the power to influence thoughts and actions. The words we use to describe things—to ourselves and others—affects how we and they think and act.

This is a lesson that we should always keep in mind. Either as leaders or as followers, and particularly as parents, our words make a difference.

Words are especially influential when repeated. Repetition forms patterns that become locked into our long-term memory. The Dutch have a saying “herhaling is de toverkracht van de reclame,” which translates loosely as “repetition is the magic power of advertising.” This is a powerful statement. I can still recall many ads from the 60’s and 70’s, when ads were well-written and the dialog and the music were original and focused. This is because of repetition that occurred. Repetition gives ideas staying power.

I also recall many things that were repeated to me over the years, seriously and in jest, both positive and negative. They are etched in my memory. And I can think of some leaders and supervisors who simply dwelt on the negative. They utilized a reverse-sandwich technique in giving criticism. Their failure messages still resound in my head.

The lesson for leaders is that some things bear repeating; others should not be repeated.

Disapproval is far more powerful than approval. It is also more common.

If you have to continually repeat criticisms, maybe you need to take another look at yourself. You are probably an ineffective leader, and it is certain that what you are doing isn’t working. More often than not, the underperforming individual needs some coaching and encouragement, and then he or she will begin to improve.

It should also be taboo to repeat complaints. Complaints suck the energy out of a team. They create apprehension and stifle creativity.

As a leader, the things you should be repeating are encouragement, sincere praise and thanks. And if you must repeat anything else, why not repeat solutions and visions? The failure messages have to go. Your repeated phrases should be validating and serve to guide the individual down the desired path, with a vision of the intended destination.

Repeated criticism and complaints become like the drone note in some musical styles. Are you familiar with the drone note? I believe the drone is one of the main reasons that people don’t like listening to bagpipes. If you drone on and on, people won’t like listening to you, either.


A great leader is at home on the range, where seldom is heard a discouraging word.

[1] Photo from Kathleen M. Isabell, who notes: A helpful Exit sign on I-94 in western North Dakota directs the deer and the antelope to where they are supposed to play. There are no services at this exit. – See more at: . There is actually a rehab center at this exit, not an attraction. So where do the deer and the antelope go to play?

What was John Wayne’s take on the Scout Law?

Scouting was a big part of my life. It is where I learned many life skills and began learning how to be a leader. It shaped me, and many of my contemporaries. Because Boy Scouts is founded upon moral principles, and actually believes in standards, it is under attack by those who feel that there should be no moral standards in society. this has already done irreparable damage to the foundations of Scouting, and I fear that it will lead to the demise of a once-great program for youth.

I am reposting this blog post from Bryan on Scouting, from BSA’s website: because it quotes from John Wayne on what is most important in Scouting: specifically the Scout Law. The principles are timeless. At least if you still believe in principles. I happen to believe very strongly that we need principles as a foundation of a strong society.

What was John Wayne’s take on the Scout Law?

In 1979, dignitaries including President Gerald Ford honored Academy Award-winning actor John Wayne at a dinner hosted by the BSA’s Los Angeles Area Council.

The council named the John Wayne Outpost Camp after The Duke, paying tribute to the actor only a few months before his death on June 11, 1979.

It was at this dinner that Wayne shared his own interpretation of the Scout Law and what it means to him. (This script is from the May-June 1979 issue of Scouting found in our archives.)

“A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent,” he said.

“Nice words. Trouble is, we learn them so young we sometimes don’t get all the understanding that goes with them. I take care of that with my family. As each boy reaches Scout age, I make sure he learns the Scout Law. Then I break it down for him with a few things I’ve picked up in the more than half century since I learned it.

“A Scout is …

Trustworthy – The badge of honesty. Having it lets you look any man straight in the eye. Lacking it, he won’t look back. Keep this one at the top of your list.

Loyal – The very word is life itself, for without loyalty we have no love of person or country.

Helpful – Part sharing, part caring. By helping each other, we help ourselves, not to mention mankind. Be always full of help — the dying man’s last words.

Friendly – Brotherhood is part of that word. You can take it in a lot of directions — and do — but make sure and start with brotherhood.

Courteous – Allow each person his human dignity, which means a lot more than saying “yes ma’am” and “Thank you, sir.” It reflects an attitude that later in life you “wish you had honored more … earlier in life.” Save yourself that problem. Do it now.

Kind – This one word would stop wars and erase hatreds. But it’s like your bicycle. It’s just no good unless you get out and use it.

Obedient – Start at home, practice it on your family, enlarge it to your friends, share it with humanity.

Cheerful – Anyone can put on a happy face when the going’s good. The secret is to wear it as a mask for your problems. It might surprise you how many others do the same thing.

Thrifty – Means a lot more than putting pennies away, and it’s the opposite of cheap. Common sense covers it just about as well as anything.

Brave – You don’t have to fight to be brave. Millions of good, fine, decent folks show more bravery than heavyweight champs just by getting out of bed every morning, going out to do a good day’s work, and living the best life they know how against a lot of odds. Brave. Keep the word handy every day of your life.

Clean – Soap and water help a lot on the outside. But it’s the inside that counts and don’t ever forget it.

Reverent – Believe in anything that you want to believe in, but keep God at the top of it. With Him, life can be a beautiful experience. Without Him, you are just biding time.

Wayne thanked the hosts for putting his name on the Scout camp, adding, “I would rather see it here than on all the theater marquees the world over.”

Leaders Nurture Talent

Develop Talent

As I see it, one of my primary responsibilities as I teach dentistry is to help my students to develop their talents. They come to clinic with a limited skill set, and limited confidence in their ability. Before they are ready to be turned loose on the public, they must expand that skill set, develop clinical judgment, and become confident in their own judgment, because I will not be looking over their shoulders for very long.

I have discovered some keys to facilitating this process:

  1. Get out of the way
  2. Don’t provide all the answers
  3. Expect excellence
  4. Correct with kindness

Get Out of the Way

Herbie Hancock tells a story of his auditions with Miles Davis and his band. Hancock, then a neophyte keyboard player, reported that Davis started off a tune, and then disappeared. The band continued playing. The next day the same thing happened. After a few days of this, Davis invited Hancock to join the band. Hancock didn’t learn until years later that Davis’ disappearing act was intentional. He knew that young musicians might be intimidated by his presence (I would have been), so he eliminated that distraction so they could perform at their best.

It isn’t easy to find just the right amount of supervision. Especially when my students are treating patients, I need to create the right mix of hovering and independence. As they progress and prove themselves, I hover less.

Those we lead need to feel some freedom in order to grow. Too much attention produces anxiety, and stifles creativity as well as growth. Of course, supervision also ensures accountability, and that is vital to our success in any setting.

Don’t Provide All the Answers

Another lesson Hancock learned from Miles Davis was his teaching method. Miles would rarely give a complete answer when a younger musician asked him specific questions about music theory.

I had to train myself not to be the “answer man” when I taught. When a student asks me what to do in a certain situation, my response is usually “tell me what you think.” I will frequently ask “what are the options/” and then “which do you prefer?” It is a rewarding experience to watch students reason through an approach to a problem and to see the light come on as they realize the best solution. We know that when an individual reasons out a problem, he remembers the solution better than if the answer is just handed to him. I also try not to ask these questions in a threatening tone.

Of course, if your crew isn’t adequately taught and trained beforehand, this can be a recipe for disaster. But with the proper background, questioning can lead to additional growth and confidence. Your team will learn to think for themselves, and you will be able to validate their correct thinking.

Expect Excellence

If you have listened to any of Miles Davis’ recordings (Kind of Blue is my favorite, by far, especially the complexities of So What), it is obvious that he had very high standards. He was willing to teach, but he only surrounded himself with top-notch musicians. The results are unmistakable.

As I work with my dental students, I also have the opportunity to work with the best of the best. Admission is extremely competitive, so the standards are high. Some of our expectations are written; some are conveyed verbally. My highest expectations and aspirations for my team of students are unspoken, but they feel it, and most want to measure up.

Along with the basic graduation and licensure standards, I expect consistent improvement from each student, and encourage them to become the best dentist they can be. Some of our goals are individualized, based on each individual’s potential.

In most of our teams, we won’t have the cream of the crop: there will be a diversity of talent and ability. That’s fine. Our challenge as a leader is to personalize expectations so that each individual is competing with himself. This tends to build collaboration and a better team spirit. And there is nothing wrong with team members lifting each other. Of course, there are some areas where the team members should be competing with each other (sales), but the team effort is important.

Business development - Closeup of hands holding seedling in a group

Correct with Kindness

We all lead humans. Mistakes are inevitable. Miles had it easy in that sense. In rehearsals, he could stop everyone and start over. In dentistry, we don’t often have that luxury. Things don’t always go as anticipated, or a student neglects to get advice when he or she encounters the unexpected. In order to develop the talents properly, correction must be given.

On occasion it is necessary to express disapproval and to respond vigorously and quickly. At other times a quick sidebar can be held, out of earshot of the others. But if mistakes are allowed to continue, change is unlikely.

We have been encouraged, following a procedure, to help the students to evaluate themselves, in order to promote clinical judgment. I have found that asking questions is the best way to encourage my students’ self-evaluation skills.

In our teams, the same questions can apply. Questions I frequently ask are:

“How do you think that went?”
“What could you have done better?”
“What will you do differently next time?”
“How could I have eased the process?”
“What did you learn today?”

Questions I do not ask include:

“What were you thinking?”
“Why didn’t you follow directions?”
“Why didn’t you stop and ask for help?”

I prefer to close the discussion with encouragement to do better (perform, make decisions, communicate, etc.) the next time. Sometimes an assignment is given to review technique or practice before attempting the procedure again. In some cases, we will redo the procedure the next time in order to bring it up to standards.

Positive feedback is vital to improvement. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Every artist was first an amateur.” A good leader should provide the necessary support to transform his team into true professionals.

Hard work, commitment, and talent will help to make it happen.

Facilitating Achievement through Setting Goals — Together

Missing the mark

Good leaders set good goals: for themselves as well as for their subordinates. But exceptional leaders set good goals with their subordinates, then help them to achieve these goals. How often do we put that into practice?

Several years ago, as a “middle manager,” I met with my supervisor for my annual review. I was told that my leadership style was too “laid back.” His suggested goal for me? “Be proactive.” I asked him for clarification. His response? “Just be more proactive.”

With this direction in mind, I made an effort to use his vague advice by being more proactive with my people. The only problem was that my idea of proactivity and his did not coincide. I was unknowingly aiming at the wrong targets. This was not made clear until a year later. But the specific targets were not defined; instead, I continued to hear “be more proactive.”

Along with the nonspecific direction, he also gave the impression that I was failing in my responsibilities because I couldn’t meet his vaguely described expectations. I was being set up for failure, and I’m not certain that it was intentional.

A good leader should take a cooperative approach to goal-setting for his direct reports; in doing this, he becomes a facilitator. It is helpful to remember the Latin root of facilitate is facilis: to make easier. Specific goals should be suggested, and resources identified and provided that can assist in achieving those goals.

Good goals are well-defined, have a timeline, and should be measurable. Ambiguous goals will lead to poor outcomes. And as leaders, we should ask ourselves regularly: “Am I making it easier for my direct reports to achieve our mutual goals?” If I am standing in their way, then I cease to be a leader.

On target

We are all familiar with “SMART” goals.[1] This sometimes seems trite, but the principles are sound. If your approach is based on sound principles, it has greater potential for success. Call the goals what you want, but SMART goals really are smart. In general, goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.

I want to inject a side note here. Inject some positive feedback into your evaluations and reviews. Dale Carnegie reminded us to be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” Even the poorest performance has something praiseworthy in it. Sincere praise can be an effective way to promote improved performance. One of my high school English teachers used to write “Noble Effort” on the essays that didn’t measure up. I have not forgotten that.

Remember, we are leading people. Look for the good and praise it. Support them at every opportunity. Help them to see their value to your organization; help them to see their worth as individuals.


[1] Doran, G. T. (1981). There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives. Management Review, Volume 70, Issue 11(AMA FORUM), pp. 35-36.

Does Your Leadership Inspire Freedom or Fear? 4 Ways to Tell

I was impressed by the way Randy presented this leadership topic. It makes good sense to me. After all, if a leader does not allow freedom, then he is not a leader at all, but a dictator.
How are you leading? Do you inspire freedom? Or do you demand servitude and submission?
It’s worth a little introspection to discover your style. And then make corrections if necessary.

Leading with Trust

American FlagIndependence Day was yesterday and it had me thinking about freedom. As we all know, the desire to be free from the rule of the British Empire was the driving force for the fledgling United States to declare their independence. Such bravery and courage it took for our Founding Fathers to make that stand! It gives great meaning to the last line of the Declaration of Independence: “…we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

But I was thinking of freedom in the context of leadership and a question occurred to me: Does my leadership inspire freedom in my people? It’s an interesting question to consider.

I believe leadership should inspire people to be the best versions of themselves. It should encourage others to manifest the full expression of their intelligence and creativity, and in order to do that, people need to be free. They need…

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Overcoming the Shoe Drop Syndrome

I have followed Dan Rockwells’ Leadership Freak Blog for some time, and I have benefited from reading his posts. This one is particularly good. In part because I have an intense dislike for the critique sandwich. The praise always comes across as insincere. And I prefer a good roast beef sandwich to a bologna (baloney) sandwich any day.

Dan’s insights here are profound, and I will change my approach because of it. That is why I share it here with you.

Recall Carnegie’s admonition to be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” The baloney sandwich is neither.

If you enjoy this, check out Dan’s other posts at Leadership Freak. He is at a place where I am striving to be with my blog.

Here’s Dan on giving praise properly:

Shoe drop syndrome: Waiting for the bad news, after receiving the good.

Manipulative leaders use praise as the channel to give the bad news that’s really on their mind. Everyone ignores the good, and waits for the other shoe to drop.

search for the good

Feedback sandwich:

The feedback sandwich is filled with baloney.

You start and end with praise and slip the baloney in between. Go ahead, use praise as a courtesy, when delivering tough news, but don’t expect it to stick.

If the only praise you give is in preparation for bad news, you’re a jerk.

Search for the good. The stink finds you all by itself.

10 ways to look for the good:

  1. Schedule a daily walk about to look only for praiseworthy behaviors. Take 15 minutes every day this week to bring it up and brag it up.
  2. Use language that expresses emotion. I’m so proud to work here when I see ______.
  3. Think about things that are running smoothly. What isn’t broken?
  4. Seize imperfect moments to offer imperfect praise. Don’t wait for the perfect moment.
  5. Compliment small things. If you wait for the big stuff, you wait too long.
  6. Complete this sentence. I respect you for ______.
  7. Acknowledge effort as well as achievement.
  8. When you see behaviors you want more of, complement it right then.
  9. Who gets along, serves, speaks truth to power, or goes the extra mile?
  10. Use virtual channels if your team is spread across the globe.

Bonus: Ask, “What’s working?”

Look for:

  1. Energy.
  2. Reliability.
  3. Creativity.
  4. Loyalty.
  5. Endurance.
  6. Integrity.
  7. Skill.


Pour energy into contributors.

Don’t allow poor performers to consume your time, attention, and energy. Give them a chance. Help them step up. Offer training. But, don’t let compassion or hope be the reason you neglect high performers.

Focus on high performers and people who are growing, if you want great achievement.

How might leaders aggressively search for the good?

Re-posted from: Leadership Freak

Creating harmony from discord

TSS-ConflictHow do you deal with conflict on your team? Particularly if the team seems to be distracted from its vision? Or if it threatens the progress of an initiative or even of the organization itself? This is a problem we all face on occasion, and when we are initiating change of any kind, it can put a new initiative on life support.

I just finished reading Dana Perino’s book And the Good News Is … Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side. I am not readily drawn to biographies of celebrities, but this book caught my eye for several reasons (no, one of them was not Dana’s picture on the cover). The last section, where she gives favorite advice and shares life lessons is worth the price of the book.

As George W. Bush’s last Press Secretary, Ms. Perino was privy to many significant events. One event that caught my attention was an account of a presidential visit to Israel to help produce a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Bush met with both Peres and Abbas in order to develop this.

At a state dinner hosted by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Bush showed his strong side when it was his turn to speak. I summarize Dana’s words: “The President said, ‘Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. We are honored to be here. The relationship between Israel and the United States has never been stronger. And we have an opportunity here to ensure security for your citizens through decisions we have before us,’ he said and then paused as he looked around the room. ‘But I’m telling you right now— if there’s anyone sitting at this table that is waiting in the tall grass with plans to attack this good man’—pointing at Olmert— ‘as soon as he makes a tough decision, please tell me now. Because I am the President of the United States of America, and I will not waste my country’s capital on you if you aren’t serious.’”[1]

There was silence, then “the Israelis started shifting in their seats after the President’s remarks and they murmured, ‘Oh no, no, no, there are no problems here, nothing to see, let’s move along.’”

President Bush followed up with a question: “Tell you what— I’d like to hear more about all of you. Who here was born in Israel?” Only one cabinet official raised her hand. The President then asked, “Well, what are your stories— how did your families come here?”

They went around the table and told their stories. The atmosphere changed as the Israeli leaders were reminded of their common ground, and even discovered ties with each other that they were not aware of. Bush allowed this to progress, and when the conversation began to die down, he said, “I had a feeling you all may have forgotten why you were here in the first place. Thank you for having us. Good night.”

Later on, Dana asked how he knew what was going on. He said that “based on his observations and his gut instinct, he believed they’d become so wrapped up in the daily politics that they’d lost sight of the overall goal of signing a peace agreement. He had a feeling that they’d just stopped talking to one another, so he decided to take a chance to get them to start seeing themselves as allies for a common cause, rather than as individuals fighting their own political battles.”

To me, this is a powerful lesson. In any team situation, be it at work, recreation, or even in our marriages, it is beneficial to remember what brought you there.

Why are you serving on that committee?

Why did you apply for that job?

What was it that first attracted you to your spouse or significant other?

Have you forgotten “your story”?

As you deal with conflict on your teams, is your perspective based on your common goal?

Do you have the courage to follow your gut instincts in developing unity?

Can you look beyond the initiative to see what the real source of conflict is, and then address it appropriately?

Do you feel empowered, or have you been empowered to stand in a position of strength to remedy these conflicts? If not, do you have the courage to stand up for unity?

Of course, differing opinions will benefit the team–to a point. That diversity stimulates creative thought and productivity. But when you come to a divisive moment, or reach a sticking point, then you must remind the dissenters that you are allies fighting for a common cause, and not just individuals fighting your own personal battles.

There is no simple answer to resolving conflict on your team. But it is often helpful to see how other leaders have handled challenging situations.

A leader looks to the example of other leaders.

[1] Perino, Dana (2015-04-21). And the Good News Is…: Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side (Kindle Locations 1488-1491). Pp. 111-113 Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition. Additional quotes also from these pages..

If I Could See Clearly Now

A good leader sets clear expectations.

One of the challenges of leadership is in motivating others to achieve goals. But this is essential in making progress in your organization. It is especially important that the two people be on the same page as they work together. Brian Tracy said “Whatever we expect with confidence becomes our own self-fulfilling prophecy.” With that in mind, why would a good leader fail to share his expectations with those who report to him?

Some things are critical to your success.

  1. Set specific, relevant goals. Vague goals do not help anyone achieve the desired end. I have written before about the time during an annual review when a supervisor told me I needed to be more proactive. When I asked for clarification so I knew what to focus on, I was told “just be more proactive.” I pursued that goal for a year, but not in the direction my supervisor had wanted. I still don’t know exactly what was wanted.
  2. Set deadlines and checkpoints. A good goal must have a target date. And frequently there are intermediate steps that should be checked. Sometimes it is just good to have a progress check. These should be discussed together so that expectations are clear. There is nothing worse than being called in to account for progress on a goal without warning, and being chastised because you are not on track. Just as runners measure their split times at given points, leaders must also take measure periodically and give meaningful feedback to their team members.
  3. Make sure that the metrics for measuring progress are clearly understood. Thomas S. Monson has said “Where performance is measured, performance improves. Where performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates.” But both sides must be using the same measuring stick. I was once called out (at an unscheduled checkpoint) for falling short on a goal. By the measurements I used, the numbers had doubled from the previous year; I thought I was making good progress. But that wasn’t how my supervisor saw it. Be clear on what you are measuring and how you will measure it.
  4. Praise progress, and don’t focus on shortcomings. Dale Carnegie taught to begin with praise and honest appreciation, then to call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly. The phrase that has stuck with me for 40 years is “Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” He also suggested that the leader give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
  5. Never ever blindside anyone in an evaluation, not even in a crisis situation. This goes along with the clearly defined checkpoints and clear metrics. If you must call an additional intermediate meeting, give the individual some indication of what will be discussed (maybe not if you are firing the individual with cause). If he or she can prepare, the meeting will more productive for both of you.

John Akers said: “Set your expectations high; find men and women whose integrity and values you respect; get their agreement on a course of action; and give them your ultimate trust.”

Isn’t that a significant part of leadership? We must show trust as well as earn it. In setting clear expectations of others we are doing both.

Have clear expectations, and make them known!