3 Questions Every Employee Wants Answered

Compass-And-Old-MapManagement consultants and organizational trainers love building models. There is something very appealing about organizing ideas and strategies to implement a particular vision or objective, especially when managing change. Companies constantly look for ways to make training more meaningful, to cultivate environments in which employees are engaged in their jobs and aligned with the vision. Yet, despite all the development models, performance factors, and evolving priorities, employees ultimately just want the answers to three simple questions:

1. Where are we going?
2. How are we going to get there?
3. What is my role?

Where are we going?

Communicating a clear vision and well-defined objective is essential.  Employees need to know what success will look like.  The answer to this question should define the goal and paint a picture of the future.

How are we going to get there?

Providing a destination without specific directions for how to get there is just asking for mass confusion and conflicting priorities.   Employees need a roadmap – the relevant action steps required to achieve the objective, including the expected timeline and key milestones.

What is my role?

This is, perhaps, the most important question of all.  Everyone wants to know what is expected of them, the skills, deliverables and time required, as well as any potential impact to compensation, job security, work-life balance, etc.

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The Fallacy of Authority

authoritySimply put, leadership is the ability to influence others.

Ironically, however, the ability to influence others, either in an organization or in the political arena, ultimately doesn’t depend on an individual’s title or position of authority. In fact, those in positions of “authority” often confuse their ability to inflict their will on others (where authorized by their position or title) as a “right” of leadership. This is frequently the case with new managers and those whose motivation for leadership is based on a desire for authority in the form of personal control and power.

These authoritarian relationships may command respect in a superficial sense, but are void of trust and respect. They are based solely on fear rather than empowerment and personal ownership, and offer no provision for alignment of ideas or ideals. In this self-centric mindset, the emphasis on success is internal. The success of both subordinate individuals and the team is viewed by the manager as being dependent upon his or her personal success. These managers tend to believe that in order to validate their own value to the organization they must make themselves essential to the success of the team.

I see this in teams that are largely dysfunctional when the leader is absent. Decisions cannot be made without the manager’s consent. Personal ownership and accountability is stifled and autonomy is restricted. There is little or no basis of trust in the competence and discretion of the team members. This type of manager hordes power, controls rather than leads, and lacks the self confidence to allow subordinates or the entire team to excel in his absence. They make the success of their team completely dependent upon their presence and participation.

I believe that just the opposite is true of superior leaders – that the true measure of success for a leader is not how necessary he is to the team, but in fact how unnecessary he is. This might sound radical or counter-intuitive, but if a leader has truly done his job, the people who work for him should be able to function autonomously for an extended period of time without the necessity of his direct supervision. They should all be aligned both individually and collectively with the organizational vision and goals. They should each have a strong sense of personal ownership and accountability, both to their leader and to each other. They should exhibit integrity and self-discipline. They should be enthusiastic and self-motivated. And finally, they should have a balanced sense of selflessness (teamwork) and drive for personal achievement. This is the very essence of a high performing team, and the best managers and strongest leaders, in effect, actually make themselves less and less integral as their teams become more and more self-sufficient.

The ability to influence others is a powerful and awesome responsibility. Effective, superior leadership, under which individual and team performance is developed and cultivated to its highest potential, requires uncommon, illusive, and perhaps innate personal qualities.  It requires confidence and vision with a strong sense of purpose.  It requires courage, discipline, and dedication to the development of others.  It requires authority without authoritarianism.  Superior leaders nurture cooperation instead of mandating compliance.  They build consensus and create a culture of alignment in which every member shares in the ownership and accountability.