My position in life has afforded me the opportunity to contrast the weaknesses of the military and civilian world. If you listen to the podcast or frequently read the blog on Thursdays, you know that I am obsessed with using the strengths of each realm to enhance the other. I’m still learning about the majority of skills the civilian world has perfected that the military is lacking in. A few examples are fostering creativity and innovation and adhering to the bottom line. One thing the civilian world seems to suck at is clearly communicating expectations.
If you are alive right now odds are you are a leader for someone. Somebody out their looks up to you or follows your direction. Whether you are a part of a matrixed organization or a head of a household you are responsible for communicating your expectations to others. Many times, your own success in life depends on cultivating this ability. Being a good communicator will save you time, money, and heart ache. Our increase in technology as a society has made our ability to communicate with the world more rapid and accessible. So, how do we leverage our ability to communicate to the entire world so that we have the greatest impact possible?
Every time you ask someone to do something for you in the means of accomplishing a common goal you MUST clearly articulate the task and the purpose. One without the other is halfhearted and means you are just being lazy. Of course, the nuances of the art of influencing others to do what you want are a topic for another post. This post focuses science of breaking down a task so that your goals are carried out by members of your team or family. It seems simple enough but let’s break this down further.
The task is what you specifically need accomplished. It is what you expect the other person you are communicating with to do. The purpose is the “why” behind said task. It is the reason you need this person to follow through on your desires. Nietzsche nailed this human need when he said, “a human can withstand almost any how, as long as he knows his why.” People need a sense of purpose in life, they need to know where their actions tie into the grand scheme of things. Failing to provide a purpose is a common fault in the communication of many leaders in today’s age. To me, failing to give those people you work with a why behind a task is laziness and shows that you don’t truly care about them.
Give the person you are providing a task an example of what success looks like. A clear end-state is crucial in accomplishing any goal. Be specific and provide all of the crucial details when communicating what successful completion is. Provide them a deadline and make it clear that you are tied into this success. You can do so by showing them an example of previous work and walking through which parts of it you would like them to take from directly and which parts you would like them to avoid. In an effort to avoid micromanagement (the enemy of al personal ownership of a task) give them creative license to carry out your bidding in a manner they deem efficient. If you are scared their creative license will change their deliverable to something you do not prefer, take the time to provide clear details of what specifically you expect. Add in an example of what you don’t want.
Follow up an example of what success looks like by including this example of what you don’t want included. This will ensure that giving a person creative license does not interfere with your internal image of success. Many times, what you communicate and what another individual thinks you are communicating differ. One says what they want to say. The other hears what they want to hear. I have seen some leaders ask a team member to articulate back to them the expectations the leader has just laid out. I personally find this practice to be embarrassing and belittling.
In discussing the delegation of orders from officers to their men, we often examine history and the Generals who were extremely successful at writing or dictating orders, and those who were awful at it. Understand that in the military clear communication of expectations can be the difference between success or failure, mission accomplishment or defeat, life or death. Officers throughout history were often required to write orders by hand to send them to lower echelon commands. Even today, radio communications are grumbled and unclear, requiring messages to be short and succinct.
It is rumored that Napoleon was one of the best communicators due to his practice of having a simple corporal who followed him around. Now I have zero historical backing to this analogy, but it serves the purpose of this post so we will tell the story none the less. Supposedly, Napoleon chose one of the members of his army who was the most hard headed, thick skulled, and somewhat lacking in intelligence. A simple Corporal. Napoleon required this man to travel with his command and control unit to every battle, and engagement. Prior to dispatching orders to subordinates Napoleon would hand his written orders to his “simple Corporal” to read and ingest. If his Corporal did not clearly understand the orders as they were written Napoleon would re-write his orders until the Corporal could follow them exactly.
I’m not saying you need to find the dumbest person in your organization and ask them to proofread your work. I am saying that it can’t hurt to consistently find a third party you can consult with privately to ask if your communication of expectations make sense. This should be a trusted individual whom you don’t mind taking feed-back from. Use them to ensure your task, purpose, and end-state are all clear. Repeat the habit over and over. Continually assess yourself and improve your own skill to the best of your ability. As leaders we are students of our craft. Always chasing perfection and understanding we will never obtain it in the hope of one reaching excellence.
John McCarthy is the founder of the Post Modern Patriot blog and the host of our podcast. He is a former Marine Infantry Officer, Husband, Soon to be father, and son. He is obsessed with individual performance in the realms of health, wealth, relationships, and the intersection of all three. He strives to share that with the world so that he can empower others to live boldly. Let’s leave a legacy!!!