"One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes... and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility." - Eleanor Roosevelt
One of the essential skills for any influential leader to cultivate is communication. Your ability to write and speak will significantly affect how people treat you and respond to your instructions.
In the next chapter, we will talk about how to command respect, but this chapter is about simply putting your point of view and goals in a way your colleagues understand.
How to Give Instructions Without Sounding Demanding
One of the most common ways a leader communicates is by giving instructions. In other words, you will supply either.
Verbal or written steps and tips can help someone know what you need from them.
If you do this well, you can ensure that everyone you speak with is supplying the best possible work. But if you do not provide concise and clear instructions, you will find that people do the wrong job – even when they mean well and have the best intentions!
In future chapters, we are going to discuss the importance of allowing staff some will control when choosing how they go about their work. While that is important, you will still have some factors that are not a matter of choice. You might have a specific deadline, you might have a particular budget, and there might be crucial points that need to be ticked off your list.
It would help if you communicated this for your team to run as a well-oiled machine.
• Supply all instructions right from the start. "Need to know basis" does not apply here.
• Do not assume anything. This is related to the above point. But if you have a strict requirement, you cannot believe your recipient will know that and plan their work around it.
Please do not wait until they have wasted hours doing something unnecessary to point out the precise specification!
• Be clear and concise. You can write more detailed instructions if you want but ensure that the key specifications are written in a bulleted list that is extremely simple to follow. A long paragraph runs the risk of being overlooked or ignored. People want to get on with the work, and "detailed" instructions are counterproductive! You can write more detailed instructions if you want but ensure that the key specifications are written in a bulleted list that is extremely simple to follow.• Prove where possible. This is a handy tip as it will help show exactly what you are looking for. Finding a helpful example or analog of what you are looking for is an excellent choice if you cannot prove it. When asking a team to design a website, for instance, it is a clever idea to supply an example of the kind of thing you are looking for.
• Ask questions. If you ask questions, you can also see if the person understands what you are saying. Likewise, allow them to ask questions if they have any.
• Make sure you have their full attention!
If you are in a crisis or a parent, then supplying a written checklist for your followers to read is likely not an option!
In this case, you can still list off a bulleted list of things that need to be done and your requirements. Again, it is about being concise and making sure it sticks in mind:
"Call the police. Tell them that we are at X address. Then get back here as quickly as possible. Do you understand?"
Explain the Why
Another vast and important tip when supplying instructions as a leader is to explain the "why." In other words, do not just tell your team what to do. Tell them why they need to do it.
That means you should explain to your team why what they are doing is essential and what the "end goal" is. Instead of saying: do X, Y, and Z, you should say, "We need to accomplish N, so do X, Y, and Z."
This does a few things. Firstly, it shows you trust the individual, which can hugely affect willingness and enthusiasm. Likewise, knowing why they are doing it is essential and can also supply a lot of added motivation.
Secondly, it empowers the individual to think of their feet. If you supply clear instructions, but the person does not understand the “Why," they will not be able to adapt if situations change. If they know what needs to happen, they can work around those problems to ensure that the outcome is still the one you want.
We will see this idea repeatedly in this book: you must trust your team.