The Best Direction Tells People What to Do
A guest lecturer at one of my undergraduate classes put a note on the chalkboard and quickly erased the note and posted a different note. Then she apologized. She said that she had just broken a basic principle of teaching. That is, only show people the information you want them to remember.
Of course, what this instructor said applies not only to teaching, but also to leadership. Great instructions focus on telling people only what you want them to do.
But what about warning signs? Yes, there are times when alerting people is critical. How about calling out mistakes? Yes, there are times when calling out mistakes is critical. But the most effective managers take the next step. They redirect their people to take the correct action.
To be on time, arrive early.
Only paint this wall.
Take each step in this order.
Here is a Personal Experience
I served for three years as a Navy officer. Among other duties, I wrote the USS Midway’s press releases and sent them to a central location for clearance and release to the media. I was on the bridge when the message came in that “Midway’s press releases consistently missed the deadline for release to the media.”
The ship’s executive officer was the ship’s number two in command and was four ranks above me. He saw the message first and brought it up to the bridge to discuss it with me in front of the Captain.
To me, this situation was serious. The executive officer does not does not routinely climb seven or eight flights of ship’s ladders so that he can hand deliver a message to a junior officer in the presence of the commanding officer. I was in a mental meltdown.
The Captain read the message in a glance. He said, “I see what they want us to do. They need the press releases by noon every day.” His mind moved right past the inflammatory pieces and on to the issue of what I needed to do.
He asked if I could get the press releases to U.S. Central Command by noon. I said, “Yes, Captain” and made sure that I did.
A few weeks later, the U.S. Midway received another message from U.S. Central Command about the ship’s press releases. “The USS Midway’s press releases have been consistently outstanding. The wire services have asked Central Command to use them as a model for other command press releases.”
The captain called me to the bridge to show me the message personally.
When people are doing things correctly, it is smart to use positive reinforcement to let them know to continue what they are doing. Central command sent positive reinforcement. The captain made certain that I saw it.