There’s a certain level of clarity and directness needed in leadership that doesn’t leave room for simply making suggestions; not when you want something to get done. When you are responsible for managing projects and delegating people, you have to be clear and straightforward in giving directions. Throwing out hints or suggestions and hoping someone will “pick up” on what you want done is neither effective nor fair. The folks under your sphere of influence and responsibility shouldn’t ever have to wonder about the “what” you want done. You may leave the “how” up to them, but the “what” should be absolutely clear.
Sometimes people confuse instruction with suggestion because the leader doesn’t convey a command “voice” when communicating with their staff. The people who work for you should already be informed about the “quality” of work you require. This you establish initially upon hiring and then continually reinforce in the way you relate, reward, and in the excellence of the work they see from you.
When you are direct and transparent in conveying your wishes, you can ensure that you’re building a staff that is competent and confident in executing the “what” you want done. Your clear communication with everyone is paramount; and this includes listening.
Ask questions to make sure you’ve been clear. One very effective manager ends her meetings with questions like — “Okay, now what do I want?” and/or “Alright, what’s your next step?” – giving her folks a chance to come back with what they perceive from her direction.
Different barriers can cloud the picture when it comes to people receiving instruction. For instance, a person may not ask the questions they should for fear of revealing how much they don’t understand. Smart leaders learn the personalities of those who labor with them and pick up on these type behaviors that could hinder productivity.
What a waste of time and effort when, after a staff meeting, no one knows what just happened in detail. It sounds ridiculous, but many of us have experienced this very thing. An ineffective meeting is over; no one is clear on the next step; everyone knows the boss wants something done, but no one is clear on “who” he wants to do “what.” You and your coworkers break out after the meeting — discuss it and realize that almost every one of you has a different take on what he or she is supposed to do next. This isn’t the fault of the workers. It’s the fault of the leader. They obviously weren’t specific enough in their delegation of duties; perhaps they just made a speech full of “suggestions.”
During a course on Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) the instructor taught that you get to the patient, discern the condition of the patient; and then immediately look up and point directly at an individual standing near and say directly to that person “YOU. Go call 911.” The instructor emphasized that you don’t look up, look around and say “Somebody call 911,” because that may inevitably be heard by individuals as “Somebody else go call 911.” The point is that you give “specific” instruction and not a suggestion to individuals if you want specific action.
A suggestion is an idea submitted for consideration, a proposal. In other words, you can take it or leave it. Suggestion is good when we are trying to help people think through to a course of action. Be sure, we aren’t saying that you never make suggestions to your folks or that you should always be giving orders.
I’m “suggesting” that suggestion is not the leadership tool to use when what we mean to do is INSTRUCT or DIRECT.