group meeting

Learning to give better directions

I was lucky enough to develop some management chops under the watchful eyes of teenagers. It was the perfect incubator for a budding executive, which I was then as the director of a pilot project-turned-non-profit-organization to develop community-minded leaders in El Paso, Texas.

Teenagers are blunt about what they need and forceful in letting you know when you haven’t delivered. They don’t hint. There is no guesswork. They haven’t yet picked up the art of subtlety that comes with experience. They are a gift to anyone interested in developing better management skills.

Not every employee will be as forthcoming as a teenager in expressing what they need to perform at their best, so managers must be keen observers as well as good listeners. That can be hard when the boss’ own workload may demand her undivided attention. It’s not uncommon for management direction to be hazy or incomplete and check-ins easy to skip in deference to other pressing issues.

I made lots of assumptions about what teenagers know about functioning in a workplace, one being that they could pick up a phone and schedule an interview with the mayor for their team project. They knew how to use a phone, yes, but schedule a meeting? With the mayor? No.

I had to back up a step and develop some role-playing scenarios so they could practice what they should say, anticipate potential responses during the call, and how to politely persist with follow-up communication if need be.

Learning the lesson to be mindful of and confirm that directions are clear has served me well through multiple leadership roles and management positions throughout my professional life.

Organizations don’t very often accidentally succeed without clear direction, attentive management, and follow-through. Sure, it seems simple, but it is not uncommon for “lessons learned” reviews to point to spotty direction and follow-up as the cause of a programmatic or operational failure. We all can name some well-intentioned policies or strategic action plans that foundered during implementation.

Human endeavors are anything but simple, and organizations are quintessential human endeavors. Nothing about them is easy, but there are sound tips, tricks, and methods to ensure that lackluster management is not what holds them back from achieving their goals.

If you are interested in strengthening your organization and increasing its chances for success, let’s talk.

Mary Hull Caballero signature
Mary Hull Callabero

Mary Hull Callabero is the Founder + CEO of ManageWise, a consulting firm that equips executives and managers of public-serving organizations to overcome the perils and pitfalls that hinder their progress toward achieving their goals.

Learn more about Mary and ManageWise ›

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