The 4 Steps of Giving Direction – What a Great Leader Does

Dorothy and James are two members of a six-person team. The past few months they have been working on developing a new finance model to be used internally in their company. Both of them are great programmers and have performed very well in their years at the company. But recently Human Resources gave them both a very negative report. Excerpts of this report state: “This team does not know where it is heading” and “The work is not aligned with the goals of our company”. We know that James and Dorothy are great programmers with a good track record, so what has gone wrong? They are missing direction, the compass to guide their efforts.


The team Dorothy and James are in is a so-called self-managing work team (SMWT). That means they do not have a formal leader, but more of a coach. His objective is to let them do the work they do best and give them the challenges that keep both them, and the company, at the highest level of performance. A great leader does not focus (too much) on the day-to-day business. He should constantly be translating the vision and mission of the company back to tangible tasks that align with the former.

These efforts will be difficult on the one hand but pay off on both the short and long term. A leader (especially in a hierarchical organisation) may have trouble letting go of the daily operations. But by giving trust to your employees you empower them to take ownership of their own projects. The latter part is of course about which projects they should be working on. No matter the brilliance of Dorothy and James, if they are working on the wrong projects they (and the company) will perish in the long term.

Giving direction is a four-step process. The first is planning; know what goals you are going to give to your team. The second is do; give your team the freedom to execute the plans. The third step is study/check; see if everything is going in the direction you have intended it to go. And last but not least, act; now that you know the team is doing the right thing, let them flourish and improve both their own professional standing as that of the company.


Two weeks ago the leader of James’ and Dorothy’s team (and quite some other teams) was made aware that he needed to shift his focus. Rather than helping them with programming or interpersonal issues, he is now scouting for resources and communicating the vision of the company down to the lowest level. His teams have become more productive and have been given a new sense of purpose, all they needed was a little direction.