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Do Your People Know Which Way to Go?

The ultimate goal of leadership is the delivery of exceptional performance that creates enduring value for all stakeholders. This goal demands that leaders create a clear sense of direction. In my experience, for people to perform together at a high level, they simply must know where the organization is headed and what is expected of them. As a leader, you have to clearly and succinctly answer the question, “which way?” before you can hope to show them “how high.”  Importantly, the direction must be clear, compelling, and flexible enough that people can plug into it in a way that works for them and the organization. If it is not sufficiently flexible, it will be hard (if not impossible) for the employee proposition to deliver enduring value. So, set yourself up for long-lasting success with your leadership by asking yourself these three provocative questions. These can help you gauge if you are laying a solid but flexible foundation that can create a distinct sense of direction for your organization

The ultimate goal of leadership is the delivery of exceptional performance that creates value for all stakeholders.

1. Do They Trust You? 

Trust is the secret to unlocking extraordinary performance — and it’s essential for properly orienting people to perform superbly. If they don’t trust you, you simply cannot count on them to follow you in any direction.   Have you earned their trust? Have you demonstrated your character and competence in such a fashion that people are really ready to respond to what you have to say? Without creating a high sense of trust and respect in your relationship, you cannot create direction, drive alignment, build vitality, or produce sustainably extraordinary results. But when you do cultivate trust and respect, the potential for your organization becomes limitless;  all things are possible.

2. Is Your Clarity of Purpose Unmistakable?

Once people trust and respect you, the table is perfectly set for creating a sense of direction. Now, you need to be prepared to convey a clarity of purpose that is compelling, distinct, and clear. Have you thoughtfully reflected on the purpose of your work? Have you found the “plumb line” that helps associates connect their work to the purpose of the enterprise — and shared that purpose broadly and deeply with the organization? Your purpose should be expertly articulated: the sense of direction should be collaboratively developed, strategically grounded, earnest, visible, and actionable to all stakeholders. Anchor your expectations in a concept that everyone can understand and rally around with enthusiasm.

Convey a clarity of purpose that is compelling, distinct, and clear.

During my tenure as CEO of Campbell Soup Company, our mission was: “Together we will build the world’s most extraordinary food company by nourishing people’s lives everywhere, every day.” This direction was underpinned by a tapestry of more specific expectations that included Seven Core Strategies, a Campbell Promise, a Campbell Employee Value Proposition, and a Campbell Leadership Model. It was further brought to life through an Annual Objective Setting Process and Performance Review Process designed to more clearly connect our mission to the everyday life of each associate.  By supporting our efforts with these additional expectations, in service of our mission, we helped people to deeply engage in the work of the enterprise.

3. Are They Harmoniously Engaged? 

If you have built a reservoir of trust, and people understand the direction in which the organization is headed, they now need to be engaged and empowered to do the work. The oft-used orchestra conductor metaphor is helpful here. Consider yourself as one of the conductors within a vast and complex network of orchestras in the broader organization. Have you created conditions where there is shared clarity around the arrangement of the music and the tempo, while recognizing that the duty of bringing the composition to life rests with individuals?

In every orchestra, each section must play its part: strings, percussion, winds. So it is in an organization: marketing, finance, human resources. All essential. All unique.  All expected to make on-demand decisions to meet the needs of internal and external stakeholders. Are you pointing them in the right direction at a high level, while empowering them to make the right decisions in-the-moment to advance the enterprise in real time? If you’ve created ample direction, the orchestra should be able to perform elegantly all on its own, even as it benefits from the knowledge that it is in the sure and safe hands of its leader. This way, each player, and each section, takes ownership of their respective areas of responsibility, each making contributions that are crucial to the harmonious production of the whole. When the leader and the team are harmonized in this way, and everyone is fully engaged and empowered, the potential for a high-performance symphony is ever-present — each player making the melody better with their own unique wisdom and finesse.

In every orchestra, each section must play its part.

I believe answering these three questions can help you create the direction necessary for driving ever-higher performance in your organization. They are inspired and time-tested by a leadership model I helped to develop as CEO of Campbell Soup Company; this model has evolved to become the ConantLeadership Flywheel — a value-based, character-driven, and results-oriented circle of practice areas. Learn more about the flywheel here.

What questions would you add to this list? How do you make sure your people know which way to go?

(Photo credit: Death to the Stock Photo under this license). 

Doug Conant is remarkable—and so is this work.
– Stephen M. R. Covey
Author of The Speed of Trust

The Blueprint

The Blueprint

6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights

By Douglas Conant with Amy Federman

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  1. George J. G.

    Doug, I appreciate what you wrote and I am grateful for the sharing of your gifts, experience, and knowledge. I believe the core or foundational issue is number 1 and from that the others are launched and flow more naturally. With regards to the issue of Trust, I would change it to the issue of Character ethic. Does your character ethic instill, support, and define a life of integrity, honesty, sincerity, trustworthiness, justice, equity, care, compassion, love for others, servanthood, and approachability. Do others in your circle of influence share and demonstrate the same character ethic with sincerity. Can others feel safe in contending or challenging you or your circle of influence with out negative ramifications. Do you and those in your circle of influence have any real proof that they walk the talk? My point is that the success of items 2 and 3 “need” item 1 to be fully evidential to you and the entire company. There needs to be a “history” there.

    • DouglasConant

      @disqus_O9jBtIbpDI:disqus Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts! Agree with you completely that points two and three are completely dependent on point one. As leaders, we must earn trust first; it’s our most important and essential job. You rightly note that “character ethic” is essential to earning trust — but, in my opinion, you also must demonstrate competence in equal measure to character. The “secret sauce” to earning trust is tangibly demonstrating both character and competence consistently. People must trust that we are capable of both getting the job done (competence) and doing it in the right, most integrity-laden way (character).


  1. OK, You've Got a Strategy. Now What? - […] my perspective, the first two expectations of a leader are to inspire trust and create direction. Without trust in…

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