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.

Establishing Timelines

If you are a regular reader of my HowWeLead.org blog posts, you’ll know I’m writing a series of blog posts highlighting each of the micro skills (also called leadership behaviors) used by an effective SLII® leader. This time, I’m covering Establishing Timelines, a Directive leadership behavior.

The First Secret of The One Minute Manager is One Minute Goals. Similarly, the first of the three primary skills of an SLII® leader is Goal Setting. Both of these key principles are about manager and direct report agreeing on what needs to be done—and when. When setting goals, it is critical that the SLII® leader establishes clear timelines for goal achievement.

You’ve heard me say that all good performance starts with clear goals. But how do you know a clear goal when you have one? For a goal to be clear, people need to understand what they are being asked to do—their areas of accountability; as well as what a good job looks like—the agreed-upon performance standards by which they will be evaluated.

When a direct report is new to a task, the job of goal setting largely belongs to the manager. As the manager sets a goal, they establish agreed-upon performance expectations and a realistic timeline for achieving that goal. The manager also explains the method for tracking the direct report’s progress toward goal achievement and how often this tracking will take place.

Here’s an example. New hire Michelle’s manager, using a Directive leadership style, sets a goal for her to complete a large proposal three weeks from today. They schedule meetings for every Tuesday and Thursday along the way to track her progress toward her goal. Why? Because the odds of Michelle delivering a high quality proposal are greatly increased if her manager regularly reviews the project and subsequently either praises Michelle’s progress or redirects her efforts to keep her moving in the right direction. Her manager worked side by side with Michelle to set her up for success—and she achieved her goal within the established timeline.

Establishing clear timelines for goal achievement is an integral part of SLII® leadership. Keep checking here for more updates on the other SLII® micro skills!

5 Powerful Questions to Reboot Your Work Life

As most of us settle into the COVID-19 working-from-home life, I’m reminded of just how important learning is in our lives. Whether we’re doing it for personal or professional development, learning keeps our minds and skills sharp. It not only staves off boredom, it also keeps us from becoming boring people! Getting older—or getting seniority in our jobs—has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, you can finish day-to-day tasks with ease by relying on past experiences, document templates, and standardized steps. But without ongoing learning, your personal satisfaction and effectiveness in the workplace will suffer.

I recently started a fun interaction on my social media channels called the Blanchard Campfire. Each Friday I pose a question and open it up for discussion in the comments section. Last Friday’s question was, “What have you learned during the COVID-19 pandemic?”

The answers inspire me and underscore the joy and importance of continuous learning. Here are a few of the things people said about what they’re learning:

“I’m staying current in my job by learning many things I overlooked all these years.”

“I’m learning how important motivation and perseverance are.”

“When life slows down, families grow stronger.”

“I’m rethinking my work role.”

“I’m studying a new language.”

“I’m strengthening my video development skills.”

“I’ve learned that we really do not have control of the future, so we need to love unconditionally.”

“I’m learning to teach an online course.”

If you’ve ever worked on a computer that hasn’t been tuned up in a while, you might have noticed that it can get sluggish. The same thing happens to us as individuals. We need rebooting and updated software from time to time, and this pandemic is a great opportunity to refresh and reset our professional lives.

To help you reboot, I’ve created a short quiz, adapted from the book I wrote with Mark Miller, Great Leaders GROW: Becoming a Leader for Life. Read each question and give an honest yes or no answer.

  1. Do I have up-to-date knowledge about my industry?
  2. Do I share my knowledge with others?
  3. Do I know my strengths and weaknesses?
  4. Do I have a mentor in my field?
  5. Do I have a personal development plan?

If you answered no to any of the questions above, that’s a great place to start. For example, if you’re new to an industry or have fallen behind on the latest developments in it, take the following steps:

  • Set a goal to become knowledgeable in a specific area of your industry.
  • Set a deadline to complete your learning. As my wife, Margie, often says, “A goal without a deadline is just a dream.”
  • Take action to achieve your goal: read relevant books and articles, take online classes and tutorials, or participate in webinars that will fill in your knowledge gaps. Take advantage of any educational opportunities your employer may offer. And don’t overlook the value of finding a mentor in your field.
  • Reward your progress. When you’ve finished a book, tutorial, or class, give yourself a pat on the back or treat yourself in a way that makes you feel good.

Go through this process with items 1 through 5 in the quiz above and turn your no answers into yes answers. When you’ve done them all, start over and do them again. The point is to continue to grow along your learning journey.

Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting your expectations too high. Remember, perfection is the enemy of excellence. That’s why I suggested that you reward yourself as you make progress, not just when you complete the goal.

And don’t beat yourself up if you don’t do it perfectly. Suppose you wanted to teach a child to say, “Please give me a glass of water.” If you waited until the child said the whole sentence before you gave them any water, they’d die of thirst. So, you start off by saying, “Water! Water!” Suddenly, one day the child says “waller.” You burst into a smile, hug and kiss the child, and get grandma on the phone so the child can say “waller, waller.” It isn’t “water,” but it’s close. Be as compassionate with yourself as you’d be with that child, and praise yourself for progress, not perfection, as you work toward your goals.

Brian Herbert said, “The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.”  So, choose learning today—you’ll never regret it!

3 Simple Ways to Master Learning and Make Things Happen

Years ago, a dear friend of mine asked me what my biggest disappointment was with my career. That thoughtful question motivated some real self-reflection. I realized that what bothered me most was that my work was not having lasting impact. While my books were widely read, many people were not following through on the concepts and using them consistently in their day-to-day work. Most managers seemed content to merely talk about leadership practices, rather than to actually implement them.

My friend said, “You’re trying to change people’s behavior only from the outside. Lasting change starts on the inside and moves out.”

I knew immediately he was right, because all I had been focusing on were leadership methods and behavior. I hadn’t focused much on what was inside people’s heads or hearts.

Armed with this new insight, I teamed up with Paul J. Meyer and Dick Ruhe to write Know Can Do, a book about how to close the learning-doing gap. Together we developed three simple ways to help people make the leap from knowing to doing.

#1 – Learn Less More (and Not More Less)

While it’s fine to spend energy learning new skills and knowledge, you also need strategies to retain and apply all the helpful information you take in. For example, perhaps you love reading books and attending seminars. There’s nothing wrong with that—unless you do those things so often that you don’t pause to integrate your new know-how and put it into action.

The fact is, we retain only a small fraction of what we read and hear only once. Instead of gobbling up new information, focus on a few key concepts and study them deeply. Then repeat what you’ve learned over time, which is called spaced repetition. This way, the new knowledge becomes firmly fixed in your mind and you become a master in those areas.

#2 – Listen with a Positive Mindset

There’s nothing wrong with thinking critically; in fact, it’s essential for survival. However, many if not most of us did not receive unconditional love and support when we were young. This gives us a tendency to doubt ourselves and others. Self-doubt causes us to filter all information—whether in book, audio, video, seminar, or conversation format—through our indecisive, closed-minded, judgmental, fear-ridden mindset, which leads to negative thinking.

Negative thinking causes us to learn and use only a fraction of what we see and hear. As a result, we achieve only a small percentage of what we could achieve. We accept too little too soon.

A positive, open mind ignites creativity, ingenuity, and resourcefulness. Instead of trying to find what’s wrong with new information, be a green light thinker who actively seeks out what’s right. Practice saying to yourself, “I know there is something of value in what I’m reading or hearing; what is it?”

#3 – Use a Follow-Up Plan

Doing what you’ve learned cannot be left to chance. To keep and apply the knowledge you’ve gained, you need a follow-up plan that provides structure, support, and accountability.

For example, suppose you’ve been out of shape most of your life, but thanks to your newfound positive thinking, you just finished a session with a personal trainer at the gym. You’re feeling proud of yourself—but you don’t have a follow-up plan. What do you think is going to happen in the coming weeks and months? Chances are good to great that you’ll revert to your old ways.

Follow-up plans can take many forms, but the best ones include someone who can tell you, show you, observe you, and praise your progress or redirect you as you practice the new skill. Don’t let your teacher skip the praise part of that sequence, because accentuating the positive motivates learners. Soon you’ll be able to praise and redirect yourself. Over time, you’ll become a master in that skill.

And what’s the best way to maintain that mastery? By teaching what you’ve learned.

So, put the knowledge you’ve just gained into action by reviewing this blog with a positive mindset, practicing these steps, and sharing them with others!

Don’t Be Afraid to Call an Audible

If there’s one thing leaders can count on, it’s that you can’t count on things to stay the same.  You get a game plan and then all of a sudden, circumstances change—your plan will no longer work. That’s when you’ve got to do what my friend, retired Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, refers to as “calling an audible”—doing something different to succeed.

One of my favorite stories about calling audibles comes from a seeing eye dog training program in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Two kinds of dogs would get kicked out of this program. One was the completely disobedient dog—the one that would do nothing the master wanted. Surprisingly, the other kind was the completely obedient dog—the one that did whatever the master asked it to.

The program only kept dogs that did whatever the master wanted unless it didn’t make sense. The trainers actually taught these dogs to think—to use judgment! So, if a dog is on a street corner and the master says, “Forward”—but the dog looks and sees a car coming at 60 miles an hour—the dog doesn’t blindly think, “This is a real bummer” as he leads his master right out in front of the car. Ha!

Sometimes leaders need to be like the seeing eye dog staring at the car heading their way at 60 miles per hour. Just because the business plan says to follow Plan A, it might be time to adopt Plan B.

Netflix provides a great example. In 1998—back when Blockbuster was the big name in movie rentals—Netflix started renting out DVDs by mail. But by 2007 the DVD rental model was losing profitability. That’s when Netflix called an audible—they took advantage of new technology and began offering a subscription streaming service.

Netflix is now the global leader in on-demand entertainment. Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in 2010. Blockbuster either didn’t see the car coming at 60 miles an hour, or they blindly followed a bad plan.

Organizations thrive when decision makers at every level learn to be audible ready. For example, a family with young kids was having dinner at a fine gourmet hotel restaurant in New York City. The kids ordered macaroni and cheese from the children’s menu. When dinner came, the kids played with the macaroni but didn’t each much. The grown-ups tried some and thought it was the greatest gourmet mac-and-cheese they’d ever tasted. When the waiter asked the kids if there was something wrong with their meal, they said, “It’s yucky! It’s not Kraft!”

The next evening when the family appeared at the restaurant, the waiter from the previous night spotted them and came right over to the kids. “I was hoping you would come back. I got Kraft for you.” With that, he went to the kitchen and returned with a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

With an audible-ready waiter like that, is it any wonder the restaurant was flourishing?

Many organizations today have an organizational chart with everyone in a comfortable box. It might look nice on the wall, but it locks everyone into a fixed game plan and often, fixed rules. Don’t let this happen to you. Plans and procedures are important, so have them in place. But be ready to call an audible when you see that 60-mile-an-hour car heading your way!