About ten years ago, I finally made it to the executive suite. I wasn’t yet C-Level, but I was “in the know”, “at the table”, “a true executive.” My first company strategy session was coming up and I was raring to go. Our CEO had tasked each department with writing up a blue sky strategy, which we submitted prior to a two day offsite. These were compiled and sent back out so we could read all the other department strategies. The goal of the two days was to come together as a team to define priorities and set the company’s three year objectives in stone.
The morning of the offsite, the executives – me! – sat drinking hot coffee in a beautiful, small event center looking right up into the Rocky Mountains. We bantered about, excited to figure out how we would move the needle for the company. I had uber prepared, reading each strategy and fitting it into my own technology department’s ideas of the future. The palpable energy permeated the room.
A few minutes before we officially began, our CEO burst through the door, clutching our strategic plans high above his head and threw them onto a nearby table.
“This is crap,” he said.
Eyes blinked. Mouths dropped.
“These strategies are pathetic. You need to redo them all. And I’m not staying here to watch. I’ll be back after lunch.”
And he stormed out.
We sat there. And sat there. A colleague gathered up the papers he had thrown. Another coughed.
“He didn’t seem to like our strategy plan,” someone murmured. We all nodded and whispered agreement. And we sat there some more. Eventually, we argued. Then debated. A couple of us – not me! – cried. Someone threw a pen across the room. We fought. We yelled.
What we didn’t do was rethink the strategies. We had no idea what was wrong. So we blew the next five hours of our highly paid time in complete dysfunction. He eventually returned and we figured out what he didn’t like. But we lost those five hours.
As a leader, you have to give a little direction and a little information. I’m not implying you should micro-manage. But, direction and information are key to leading a team where you want them to go. Imagine if I asked you to write a book. If that’s the most direction and information I gave you, you might write a cookbook or a memoir or a mystery novel. Or, perhaps you would be frozen at the computer screen, not sure what to do. But, if I asked you to write a book about your experience working at our company for the last year during an economic downturn, you would write something completely different. I gave you a little direction (write a non fiction book) and a little information (about your work experience in a recession).
People will normally do one of two things when they don’t have enough information or direction to proceed:
Make up the direction.
Clearly, neither will get you where you want to go. Next time you set a course for your teams, make sure you give enough information and direction to be meaningful, to point your valuable resources down the right road.