Leadership: “You’re the Best!” Isn’t Good Enough!

Office workers all bumping fist over a desk with laptopsYou’re a wide receiver for the 2016 Denver Broncos. It’s third and long. Peyton Manning joins the huddle and says, “I love you guys; you’re the best! Let’s go get ‘em! Break!”

How successful would that play be? No one knows what the hell to do.

I worked for a CEO once who said the equivalent weekly. Absent a clear strategy, he’d frequently exhort the entire company to “Go get profitable sales!” Ahhh, OK. But which play do we run?

Specificity in communication is important, especially when it comes to strategy and performance. “Great job!” is OK when someone just performed a specific task but not OK when used in a general sense. Exactly what am I doing great so that I can repeat it? 

“Go get ‘em!” is OK if you’re coaching a reluctant cage fighter who’s cowering in the corner (they don’t have corners, but you know what I mean). It’s not OK when that’s your entire message to your sales team. Go get whom and offer them what?

Leaders and managers need to prepare for conversations so that they can engage in specifics — not to micromanage but to get beyond platitudes. 

Lack of a clear general direction (i.e., strategy) is a free-for-all. I’ve observed this in numerous companies, and it results in people working cross purposes with one another, frustration, wasted investment and limited, if any, progress. You don’t have the dollars or the people to address infinite (or maybe even two!) customer groups with many types of products or services (unless, perhaps, you’re Google!). Focus requires deciding what market(s) you’ll address and how you’ll win. That means saying no to everything else, which is one of the obligations of leadership.

Lack of specific feedback to those whom you manage (“Great job!”) is likewise dangerous. Tell me why I’m winning or tell me why I’m not cutting it, but don’t make me guess. You should expect hard work and ethical behavior from your people, but you shouldn’t expect everyone to choose the same direction if there’s no clear strategy! Successful business isn’t an Easter egg hunt!

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