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My friend, John Maxwell, the number one leadership guru in the world will tell you that “everything rises and falls on leadership.” And I have certainly experienced both the rise and fall during my own leadership duties. Ahh and OUCH!

Leader, what is your goal? Do they know? Are you certain?

I do not like using the word disclaimer because it feels like I’m hedging on my blogging points. But it is important to point out 3 leader pitfalls that, in my experience, have created “friction, confusion, and underperformance” – Peter Drucker.

Miss these 3 pitfalls, and it is likely your core (middle) workforce will struggle to be at their BEST and MISS achieving the organization’s goals. 


The responsibility for avoiding these 3 pitfalls rests squarely on the shoulders of the leader, supervisor, executive, etc., of the organization. In other words, the person who is in charge and accountable for how the workforce performs. These are by no means all-inclusive pitfalls but are important in setting the stage for my remaining Middleship™ posts. Here they are:

  1. Make clear the DIRECTION of your organization and do it OFTEN.
  2. KNOW and help others to know whether your organization is WINNING.
  3. Make clear the CULTURE you expect in the organization.

I’ll address each in separate blog posts and I hope you find them useful in your Middleship™ journey.

Bullet Point Number 1: Make clear the DIRECTION of your organization and do it OFTEN.

I’m reminded of a scene from the movie The Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man’s Chest. In one scene, an uncertain and confused Captain Jack Sparrow, when asked for a compass heading by his crew says, “Ah! A heading. Set sail in a… uh… a general… that way direction!” It’s a funny scene that played out in my early leadership journey and, regretfully, some organizations today. Funny in the movies but not so in the professional enterprise.

In my doctoral dissertation, I coined the term Leadership Direction Statements (LDS) as a way of capturing the various methods of setting direction. Mission statements, vision statements, company stories, and values are often used by leaders to set the direction of an organization. It is the leader’s place to help employees to rally and align daily activities in support of the direction statements while advancing toward the organization’s success. Once the leader provides clear direction via multiple modes (e.g., in-person, e-mail, bulletin boards, reoccurring meetings, etc.), then it (LDS) must be kept fresh and meaningful in the minds of the employees.

Think about the leaders of high performing teams.

How often does the head coach of world class athletes or professional teams say things like, “focus on excellence,” “take it to the next level,” or “we’re number one?” That is, of course, if the leader has not set the goal to be mediocre, stay the same, don’t try to get better, or to be number two.

NO! Certainly, your competitors and adversaries (in the case of homeland security) hope you and your leaders don’t try to get better. Not good!

In my experience, not only did the head coach (and proactive leaders I know) make affirming statements to be the best but so did fellow athletes, family members, and stakeholders too! The head coach [leader] will state their direction frequently and often! It is not just in recruiting literature, during the orientation meeting, or one-to-one meetings with the leader (some don’t even do it then, during meetings).

When you consider that research by the U.S. Dept. of Labor and Statistics published in Inc. Magazine shows people are productive for only 3 hours a day due to distractions and other non-productive activity, it makes it essential to keep the “direction” at the forefront of an employee’s mind.

Some leaders will say, “yeah, but, it’s easier said than done” [keeping the direction fresh in the employee’s mind]. To which I reply, “I know. You’re well beyond the realm of applying tactical/technical skills that got you to this leadership role, aren’t you? Your role as a leader has greater relevance and reach than when you supervised yourself and a small team of tactical/technical colleagues.”

Struggling with the new leadership responsibilities is not necessarily the leader’s fault, though.

One study published in Harvard Business Review indicated that people don’t get supervisory training until 10 years after being promoted to a management position. 10 years! The best time to start your study and learning leadership was 10 years ago AND today!

There are many ways to keep the direction fresh in an employee’s mind without micromanaging or being a “helicopter supervisor” (hovering, flying in, hovering, like a troublesome fly buzzing around one’s head) but that is not the intent of this blog post. Keeping the LDS fresh by enabling employees to claim ownership over the “direction,” will be covered in a future post.

It has been a joy and source of TREMENDOUS job satisfaction to know that my daily activities support the success of the enterprises that I serve. It was in no small part to my leaders being clear in the direction of the organization and doing this OFTEN!

Question: What are some of the ways you’ve seen leaders keep the direction of an organization fresh in the mind of the workforce?

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