x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Why didn't you tell me this in the first place?

The Life: I will never forget the panic and confusion I felt on my first visit to the headquarters of Savola, one of the world's leading edible oil companies, based in Jeddah.

I'll never forget the panic and confusion I felt on my first visit to the headquarters of Savola, one of the world's leading edible-oil companies, based in Jeddah. I had been to Jeddah many times before, so I was comfortable with my surroundings, but not with the directions I received.

Talking to the vice president I was about to meet, I asked, "How do I get to your office?" Without hesitation he replied, "Oh, it's easy; are you taking a taxi?"

"Yes."

"Then tell the taxi to go right out of the hotel, until you come to the roundabout that has an empty field next to where the toy store used to be. We are the big building next to that."

I paused, waiting for him to laugh, hoping this was a joke. When he didn't, I asked, "What are those directions again?" and he repeated, "Go to the roundabout that has an empty field next to where the toy store used to be, we are the big building next to that field."

"The taxi driver will know this?" I asked. "Of course, inshallah," he said as if to comfort me.

Now panicking, I left my hotel room wondering, "When was the toy store there? Last month? Last year? A decade ago?"

This landmark-orientated itinerary was very disconcerting for me. I am used to exact addresses - and maps, if possible - rather than landmarks. I was a little nervous climbing into a taxi armed only with these vague directions, but we surprisingly managed to reach our destination. Apparently, the directions were crystal clear to the taxi driver.

But in corporate life, leaders can't just dish out directions with little or no thought to the actual employees they must count on to execute their directives, those they purport to lead.

Following our analogy, do your followers prefer detailed street names and numbers, or are they visually reliant on landmarks? Do they consult Google Maps to get detailed sets of directions, or simply process the journey one step at a time? Leaders simply have to understand and embrace this level of difference and translate this everyday example of going from one location to another into how they communicate expectations in the workplace. You cannot successfully lead others without adapting your communication to be clear for them.

The problem when providing clarity is the assumption that what is vaguely clear to you is completely clear to others. Leaders often suffer from the idea that they can fully complete their thought if pushed to do so and as a result erringly give vague direction, though in their mind it seems clear. However, in the ears of the follower the message is cloudy.

If you're not sure, then your audience, followers, won't be sure either.

This creates confusion in the workforce and results in utter frustration. You have probably experienced this yourself when at some point in your career you had a boss who confidently gave fuzzy directions that you were expected to decipher. When you set off to interpret this direction you spent more time than needed as you were unsure of the expectation. Then when you finally delivered the project, you found out it was "not exactly" what your boss was looking for. Then he proceeds to give you far more clarity, leaving you thinking, "Why didn't you tell me this in the first place?"

Thus we come back to the idea of leaders being able to complete the idea later.

The moral of the story is, what seems clear to you, probably is not to others. People shouldn't have to "read between the lines" and make assumptions on their own to understand what you're trying to say.

 

Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, an adviser and the author of The CEO Shift. He is the founder of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center