Most new managers are horrible at looking someone dead in the eyes and telling them to do something. However, the most basic way to influence someone by communicating is by telling them to do something. I know this sounds obvious, but here’s the magic phrase behind it:
Good leaders are better at influencing a variety of people in a variety of situations to achieve great outcomes.
One important way of influencing others’ behaviour is through communication. Good leaders need to communicate well to different people in a variety of situations to drive great outcomes. This brings us back to the point I made earlier – the most basic way to influence someone through communication is by…
Telling them to do something.
If you don’t know how and when to tell people to do anything, you are likely going to have a harder time being a good leader in particular situations with particular persons regarding particular outcomes. I say harder time because many leaders get around this requirement by being able to communicate in different ways and by avoiding people and situations in which they have to lead by directing and instructing…but why limit the leadership potential within you? If you can master this one skill and understand when and when not to use it, you are light years ahead of people who don’t.
Before you begin directing people willy-nilly, let’s apply the four parts of leadership (leadership from the self, among others, across situations, and for outcomes) to discover how to develop as a leader:
Self – Practice Directing. People will willingly accept your direction only if you are trusted by those you intend to direct. You can also force them to comply through power, rank, and seniority. Ideally, you don’t need to use force because force is expensive to generate and also makes people disdain you when they have to comply to something against their will. Ideally people listen to you because you’ve got great people skills and/or you’re an expert on something related to what you’re directing people about.
In bootcamp, we had to practice the mission statement in order to learn how to direct people. It goes like this: “who will do what at what time, where, and why”. Example – Eric will write a blog post by tomorrow morning in order to learn more about leadership (the where isn’t applicable in this example, but there are times when this will be very applicable, as in when you’re directing an infantry section to go somewhere to close with and destroy the enemy). If you can’t do this, you are missing out on a lot of opportunities to lead.
People – Practice directing people who want direction. People are more likely to take your direction if they are unsure about what to do and are seeking direction. So don’t boss them around unless you need to. Like I said, good leaders need to influence a variety of people and situations to achieve great outcomes across a variety of situations. I think about the many times when I turned around to face my platoon only to be greeted by 30 people that want to know what we should do next. It’s a daily occurrence to be put in this position if you are leader.
Situations – Practice directing people in urgent situations. People are more likely to take your direction if there is a sense of urgency and someone is needed to coordinate a team. If you are trusted, if your people are unsure what to do, and if there’s an urgent requirement for collective action, people will listen to you when you direct them to do things. Remember: telling people to do something is the most fundamental way of influencing people. Your job is to understand in what situations you should employ this particular leadership skill.
Outcomes – Practice directing others towards rationally good outcomes. People are more likely to take your direction seriously if they agree with the consequences of carrying out the task you are directing them to conduct in the first place. You will be hard pressed to direct people to murder someone because of the rationally poor consequences of carrying out that task. Your responsibility as a leader is to direct people towards good outcomes.
It seems like a basic skill but telling someone to do something is complex. A developing leader needs to understand that directing people should be reserved for only the situations, people, and outcomes that deserve direction. Practice how and when to utilize this fundamental skill in order to develop as a leader. I say this again: if you can master this one skill and understand when and when not to use it, you are light years ahead of people who don’t.