Whether you are a team leader or a corporate director, you are charged with changing things for the better. But first you must define what ‘better' is and communicate this in a compelling and persuasive way for your team.
Michelangelo once spoke of it. Lewis Carroll once wrote about it.
But Moses had to do it.
In fact every manager should be doing it: setting a clear and unambiguous direction to his or her team.
Alice in Management Land
You'll recall that Alice, who was lost in the wood, suddenly sees the Cheshire Cat and asks:
"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the cat.
"I don't much care where..." said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the cat.
We fill our working day with a series of activities: some trivial, some fundamental to our role as a people manager. But where do all of these activities lead us? At the end of a working day, what do they all add up to? If – at the end of a busy month – we look back at the hectic ‘busy-ness' of our work, and yet discover that nothing has fundamentally changed, then what are we there for?
This is why the task of managing people begins and ends with having an overarching goal. Call it ‘vision', call it ‘strategy', the trendy management nomenclature doesn't matter. But we have to have something that we are going to strive towards, and then make sure that all of the activities that we are drawn into – or draw other people into - lead inexorably towards what we want to achieve.
And that's why the Cheshire Cat had it so right. If we don't know where we are going to, how are we going to know we've got there when we get there? Or have we just drifted to some other place..?
All managers (and I'm thinking of every individual with responsibility for people here) have to have a place that they want to take their staff to. A better place than they are in now. But if they don't have that direction, that ‘place', how are they to know if they are going in the right direction?
The David Principle
There is a story – probably apocryphal – that is told about the sculptor Michelangelo. One day, whilst working on the statue of David, somebody asked him how he could fashion such a beautiful object out of a solid, square block of marble that had been standing in a yard – neglected - for over 30 years.
Michelangelo didn't take long in replying: "It's easy, you just knock away the bits that don't look like David."
In that small anecdote is a guiding principle we should all absorb. When we are clear in our own mind about what we want to achieve, and have communicated this to our team, then we must be prepared to ‘chip away' the procedures, practices and behaviours that are not consistent with this aim.
Don't we have to Compromise our Management Ideals?
Many years ago the great management thinker, Peter Drucker, likened the communication of a manager's strategic goals as a ‘clarion call' to the team that sounds above the chaos of a frantic working environment. He defined three principles of Leadership, asserting that they:
- Set and communicate a vision to which they and their team aspire
- May compromise on the approach to their vision but they never compromise the vision itself
- Involve and energise their staff towards the achievement of the vision
The second point is crucial: some things we have to compromise; others we never compromise.
Towards a Promised Land
But Moses had to put all of these fine principles into action. Once he had told people of a ‘Promised Land' he had the unenviable task of then taking them to it. He spoke clearly about what they must do; he suffered setbacks and hardships on a journey that challenged him constantly; he changed – compromised even – much of his approach. But he delivered his promise.
We have to do the same. We have to decide a given place to take people, describe that place and then walk – or work – with them determinedly towards it.
Two Crucial Questions
We are convinced that – whatever your job title is – your job description must demand that you continually ask yourself the following two questions:
Question 1: Where is my team now?
Question 2: Where does my team need to be?
You're right. It's not rocket science. Yet it is fundamental to making sure that what we do – and what our team does - has purpose and worth.
And wouldn't it be nice to know that, when you have moved on, those who remember you smile fondly when they recall your time there?
A smile strangely similar to that of a certain Cheshire Cat?