"Tell the driver that we are located across from the vacant field next to where the toy store used to be."
Those were the directions I was given during a recent visit to one of the world's leading edible-oil businesses, headquartered in Jeddah. Thinking this was a joke, I waited on the line for my contact to laugh.
But he didn't.
Nervous about these directions, and uncertain that the driver would understand them, I ventured out. After what seemed forever and constantly asking the driver for reassurance that he really knew where we were heading, we finally reached the destination - on time.
The lesson: these directions were very clear to the driver.
To me, the vague, landmark-oriented set of directions was discomfiting, as I come from a background where maps inform the way people give directions. This contrast between being map-versus-landmark-focused highlights the difference in what brings clarity in directions.
How many times do leaders create unnecessary uncertainty by the way they convey expectations to their teams?
Leaders need to understand how they communicate expectations in the workplace - and how this may translate in the different locations of their business. When leaders are giving directions, especially, they need to consider the regional nuances and practices of the local population.
For instance, I was surprised to learn that most of the world does not use maps for directions. Yet, the majority of modern management practices revolve around the principles of a map - just consider the phrase "strategy map".
Since employees clamour for clear direction from their leaders, the practical application is that leading requires an awareness and understanding of local nuances. This may be one of the toughest things for leaders to do as they have a natural propensity to lead from a perspective of what is familiar to them.
But in this region, the workforce comes from numerous and diverse backgrounds.
Over coffee one day, the general manager of a hotel in Dubai brought this point to life. He pointed at a light and told me that he had instructed one of his workers to reposition it. At that, he had expected it would have been done - and correctly.
Yet after a few days, the light had still not been repositioned. Why? He had discovered that what he thought was a clear direction - "reposition the light" - had left the employee in doubt. The general manager then explained that when he had articulated exactly how he wanted the light repositioned, this gave the surety for action.
For leaders, it is crucial to understand the need to communicate both the specific points they want to reach and the broader story. In other words, leaders need to give directions via a map as well as landmarks. Relying on just one approach can lead to a path of confusion and diminished confidence.
The bottom line is when it comes to communicating directions and expectations, ensure that you as a leader are understood in the way that you intend. One litmus test is the observation of the directions being followed.
Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, the author of The CEO Shift and the managing director of the Emerging Market Leadership Center