The first step for any journey is deciding which direction to take your first step toward. That is, the first thing effective teams do is to decide on a goal. Steven Covey emphasizes this idea in the second habit of his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: “Begin with the end in mind.” Others talk about this in terms of vision or direction setting.
This sounds obvious and simple. It isn’t as simple as it seems. Of course, you need to have goals or you never really know when you’ve been successful. And we all have many goals that we are working on in an ad-hoc fashion: goals for a project, goals for our career, financial goals and goals for life in general. This is all good. What we are talking about, though, is something much more deliberate.
Successful leadership requires goals that are clear, simple, and compelling. This starts by making the goal very deliberate. It isn’t enough to have a good sense of the goal. You need to work it out; take the time to think it through. Write it down and edit it until you have a compelling idea that you can clearly communicate to your team.
I call this an “elevator pitch.” Amazingly often you will find yourself in an elevator with someone you need to sell on your idea. You need to be ready for those opportunities with a story that you can complete before the elevator door opens and your audience in no longer captive. You won’t have time when you see this opportunity to formulate your story and deliver it, so you better be ready in advance.
It would be tempting to start writing down all your goals and memorizing them. It is more valuable to spend your time focusing your goals to the most compelling one or two. Most people simply can’t keep track of more than a few things at a time. You will be a more effective leader if you focus on a few things at a time. Even at that you should keep the goals simple and focused.
Focused goals are not only effective for elevator pitches. Focused goals are also excellent for keeping you as a leader heading in the most important directions. But your job as a leader is to manipulate your team to keep the goal foremost in their minds. If you can infect your team with the goal, then half you job is done. Once they have the goal clearly in their minds they will head there with very little extra work from you.
Many people have difficulty figuring out how to effectively infect their team with a goal. We can take a valuable cue from advertising. In every advertisement there is a slogan or catch phrase, which is repeated often multiple times with every ad. When politicians do the same thing they call it a “sound byte.” I prefer to use the term “mantra” because the word reminds us how important it is to repeat our idea at every opportunity.
Your job is to repeat your mantra at every opportunity. There will come a point when you team teasingly mimics you repeating the goal. When this happens you have been successful at communicating the message.
The simple formula is to have a simple but effective goal, and take every opportunity to communicate it. This should happen in elevators, at lunches, in meetings, in speeches and in letters. The next important step is to pay attention to the feedback and reactions of everyone you talk to so that you can effectively make any needed adjustments to the goals.