All Good Performance Starts with Clear Goals—and Clear Roles

One of the key directive leadership behaviors for SLII® leaders centers around the leader working closely with each direct report until the person is able to effectively perform the responsibilities required of their individual role. This SLII® micro skill is called Clarifying Roles.

Clear roles go hand in hand with clear goals. You already may know that one of my favorite sayings is “All good performance starts with clear goals.” In effect, that quote could be changed to read “All good performance starts with clear goals and clear roles.” High performers are not only able to clearly describe their goals, they are also committed to learning how to master specific aspects of their role—daily functions that may include upholding standards of communication, recognizing their level of authority, directing the work of others, making decisions, etc. The SLII® leader takes an active part in this process, leading the way in determining the person’s development level in each area and providing the right amount of direction and support to help the person win—achieve their goals.  

Want an example of how a manager might work with a direct report to help them learn and understand their role? Let’s take a look at a clip of a conversation from Leadership and The One Minute Manager, a book I coauthored with my friends Pat Zigarmi and Drea Zigarmi, two of our company’s cofounders.

Here’s the context: An entrepreneur wanted to learn how the One Minute Manager could flex his leadership style for people depending on their needs. So, the One Minute Manager asked the entrepreneur to visit with a few people on his team and get their perspectives. The first person the entrepreneur met with was Larry McKenzie, who recently had been promoted to the role of vice president for people and talent development.

“I’m interested in finding out how the One Minute Manager works with you,” said the entrepreneur. “Would you call him a collaborative manager? I’ve been reading a lot about collaborative leadership.”

“He’s far from being collaborative with me,” said Larry. “In fact, he is very directive with me. People development is his baby. So, my job is essentially to follow his direction.”

“But why doesn’t he just assign you the projects he needs you to do and then just let you figure them out?” asked the entrepreneur. “He must trust you if he put you in this job.”

“I think he trusts that I’ll develop in this role, but he’s the expert,” said Larry. “So, he assigns me projects and then works very closely with me on almost every aspect of them. This role is a big stretch for me. I’m just learning about several of the responsibilities that come with this job.”

“Don’t you resent that?” asked the entrepreneur. “It sounds pretty controlling to me.”

“Not at all,” said Larry. “I was in comp and benefits before I got this position three months ago. I jumped at the opportunity to move into the people and talent group. Working with the One Minute Manager would give me a chance to learn the whole area of talent development from the ground up. He’s considered a real pro when it comes to developing people. So apart from comp and benefits—where he leaves me alone when he works with me—in almost every other area, he’s very clear about what he wants me to do and how he wants me to do it. I always know where I stand because of the frequent meetings we have and the ongoing feedback he gives me.”

“Do you think he will ever let you make any decisions on your own?” asked the entrepreneur.

“As I learn the ropes,” said Larry. “But it’s hard to make good decisions when I don’t know a lot about what it takes to accomplish my goals. Right now I’m glad the One Minute Manager wants to be involved. I’m excited about my job, and as I gain experience, I’m sure I’ll assume more responsibility.”

This passage makes clear that no matter how elevated a direct report’s role, the SLII® leader uses a directive style on the job functions that are new to that person. Note how Larry mentions that the One Minute Manager uses a delegating style on the comp and benefits areas where Larry already has expertise. However, in other areas where Larry has little expertise, the One Minute Manager uses a directing style where he shows and tells Larry exactly how those tasks should be done. As time goes by and Larry learns and improves, the responsibilities of his role become crystal clear. An SLII® leader’s job is to flex their leadership style to meet the direct report’s development level on a given task or goal. Helping each person clarify their role is an important part of that process.

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